Subject: AFP: UN envoy bullish about future despite huge challenges

Agence France Presse

May 18, 2003 Sunday

UN envoy bullish about future despite huge challenges

DILI, May 18

The world's newest nation East Timor will be able to stand on its own feet when the United Nations pulls out in June next year, the UN chief in the country believes.

Former Indian diplomat Kamalesh Sharma says he is confident the country can handle security threats when UN peacekeeping troops depart along with the rest of the mission.

"I have told the Security Council that the original plan need not undergo revision," Sharma told AFP in an interview before East Timor's first independence anniversary on Tuesday.

Riots last December, in which two people died and many buildings were damaged, were followed by attacks on civilians near the border in which at total of seven were killed.

Those attacks were widely blamed on pro-Jakarta former militiamen crossing from Indonesian West Timor.

Last month the Security Council voted to slow the withdrawal of UN troops. It maintained the date of June 2004 for the final pullout.

Sharma said work was going on to improve the capability and professionalism of the police. A 125-strong rapid intervention unit would be arriving.

experiences (the riots and the incursions) to challenge the authority of the state."

Sharma said the riots were clearly pre-planned but it was impossible to identify those responsible.

"The way they developed, the way arsonists fanned out was so deliberate that many observers saw that the movement of the rioters was being masterminded," he said.

"We were temporarily overwhelmed because the rioters had so many targets. We had to protect the oil depot, parliament buildings, the airport, the mosques."

Sharma said the cross-border attackers in January and February "are no longer militias in the older sense of the term.

"We have cooperated very closely with the government of Indonesia in neutralising these dregs of former militia but a considerable degree or organisation on their part continues."

He said the UN had heard of plans "to create simultaneous disturbances in different parts of the country to create the impression of a crisis of stability. Since our response become more robust, these incidents have been reduced."

Sharma heads the the UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET), which was set up when the country attained independence on May 20, 2002.

It currently has 3,800 troops and 730 police officers, supported by 2,300 international and local civilian staff.

A far larger UN transitional administration had rebuilt the country from scratch after departing Indonesia forces laid waste to much of it in 1999.

Sharma said the country faces huge development challenges, with about half the population lacking any formal education, high youth unemployment and two out of five people living on less than 55 cents a day.

He urged efforts to promote greater agricultural diversity and productivity, encourage small industries, provide micro-financing, create professional services and encourage opportunities for self-employment.

industrial clays, probably in commercial quantities. Fishing was unexploited as was eco-tourism -- and above all, there is oil and gas.

"For a small population of less than a million there is a huge resource base," he said.

In two or three years the country will receive the first oil and gas revenues of around 50-100 million dollars a year, Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta has said.

This will almost cover the national budget.

Sharma said he was "very positive" about the future. "This state will always be mindful of building itself on true democratic and liberal values."


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