Subject: It's Never Too Soon to Prevent Conflict, Says Timor-Leste President

It's Never Too Soon to Prevent Conflict, Says Timor-Leste President - [20 July 2005]

By Brady Eviota. NEW YORK - Using political will to create policy change could be a key role that governments can take in conflict prevention, said Timor-Leste President Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao yesterday.

Speaking before the interactive panel on mobilizing early response Tuesday afternoon, President Gusmao described the steps his country took after its first free elections in 2002, following its independence from Indonesia in 1999.

In retelling the experience of Timor, President Gusmao said one key action was the creation of a Commission on Truth and Reconciliation to hold public hearings on grave war crimes in Timor between 1975 and 1999. He views this as a step not only help heal past wounds but to prevent new ones.

'We not only tried to solve past conflicts, we were also preventing new social conflicts,' said the President, a former guerilla leader who was imprisoned in Indonesia during the 1999 UN-administered 'vote consultation.' He was released shortly after the independence vote to lead reconstruction and become the first elected President of Timor in 2002.

Even at the height of the militia violence in September 1999, the Timorese resistance leadership had called on the Falintil Resistance Army and the people not to retaliate with force against the Indonesian Army and their militia proxies, says President Gusmao.

'After the violence, we were stressing to our people the need for tolerance and the acceptance of differences as the essence of our society,' he said.

President Gusmao also said the UN and other international organizations have an important role to play in post-conflict societies, pointing out that in Timor, international groups should have followed through and empowered local civil society and the communities.

'Instead of just giving money during the emergency period, they should have visited communities and asked the people what they wanted and started self-sufficiency projects. This behavior can prevent conflict,' said President Gusmao, citing some NGOs, which had stayed on to address basic problems in Timor, such as potable water.

He also said global partnerships like GPPAC must be better defined so that there would be local ownership of plans and a fundamental shift in the nature of relationships.

The President's insights came after those of other session panelists, who advocated for partnership, synchronization of early warning and early response mechanisms, and increasing the capacity of local responses through interactive dialogue and effective analysis of conflict situations.

Earlier, Emmanuel Bombande of the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding had called attention to the need to synchronize common responses to current conflicts -- even among the colonizing countries and their former colonies, such as members of the European Union and the African Union.

Another panelist, Zamrat Salmorbekova, who works in a UNIFEM project in the Ferghana Valley in Central Asia, also called on the need to establish a coordinative body between states, international organizations and civil society to take on the special needs of women in the newly-independent republics of Central Asia.

Jan Egeland, Emergency Relief Coordinator, also said better guidelines and a more predictable system of early warning and emergency responses is still needed even if the UN already has built up its capacity to respond to emergency or humanitarian situations.

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