Subject: IPS: POLITICS: Annan Both "Impressed" and "Depressed" with East Timor

POLITICS: Annan Both "Impressed" and "Depressed" with East Timor

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 29 (IPS) - UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the UN Security Council that he was both "impressed" and "depressed" with what he saw during a visit to the politically-troubled East Timor last week.

"I was depressed by the spectacle of destruction," he told the 15-member Security Council at a closed-door briefing Tuesday.

Annan said that much of the destruction he saw had clearly been inflicted "systematically."

"They were far worse than I had imagined from what I had seen on television and read in (news) reports," he noted.

The violence and destruction began immediately following last year's elections when 78.5 percent of the voters opted for an independent state of East Timor over integration with Indonesia, which has been administering the territory since 1975.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said last year that the indiscriminate targetting of civilian populations, in particular children and women, was "an outrageous response to the peoples' free choice for independence."

Nevertheless, Annan said, he was also "greatly impressed" by the East Timorese leadership, above all, Xanana Gusmao, and by the determination of the East Timorese people to rebuild their country and to achieve reconciliation, both with each other and with their neighbours.

"Given the right kind of assistance, East Timor can have a good and stable future," he predicted. "That is where the Security Council still has a vital role to play."

At a recent conference of donors in Tokyo, governments pledged more than 500 million dollars in assistance, which Annan described as "a truly impressive sum."

"If all the pledges made there are fulfilled, this will be one of the rare cases where neither soldiers nor money are in short supply," he told the Council.

Annan, however, warned the Council that turning pledges into cash usually takes time. Funds are flowing, he said, but not quickly enough.

Currently, there is only about 22 million dollars in the UN Trust Fund for East Timor.

The World Bank has also started disbursing money, and has streamlined its procedures so that its local representative can make decisions on expenditures, within certain limits, without consulting Washington, Annan said.

Last month, World Bank chief James Wolfensohn visited East Timor and signed an agreement with the UN Special Representative in Dili, Sergio Vieira de Mello, under which some 21 million dollars will be released for urgent needs.

The United Nations has also appealed to members of the East Timorese diaspora to lend their skills and support.

Meanwhile, the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), acting on behalf of the East Timorese people, has worked out an arrangement with Australia on revenue sharing from oil and gas production in the Timor Gap.

Annan told the Council that although in the immediate future East Timor's share would not amount to more than seven or eight million dollars per year, there are hopes that in the medium term, larger sums would accrue.

The Secretary-General also told the Council that the security emergency in East Timor has more or less ended, although there are still threats.

"But please, make no mistake," he said, "there is still an emergency, and a very serious one."

East Timor faces a "daunting task" of reconstruction - not only in terms of bricks and mortar, but also in rebuilding its society.

People need jobs, schools and clinics, Annan said, adding that ports, roads and buildings have to be constructed.

All must be re-built or built from scratch. Laws and institutions must be put in place, and East Timor's people trained in all the skills require to run a modern state.

Annan said that no one has any desire to keep East Timor under UN administration for a moment longer than necessary. Equally, however, it would be irresponsible to leave before the job is done.

"The timing of our departure must be decided by objective criteria of achievement," he added.

The Security Council last year provided an initial mandate for the UN administration of East Timor to end in January 2001.

"We will do our best to work within that time frame," Annan said. "But we should be prepared to extend it, if necessary. We must see this job through to its natural conclusion." (END/IPS/IP/td/ks/00)

Origin: Rome/POLITICS/

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