Subject: AU:Anger at UN drink driving in Timor

The Australian

Monday, May 7, 2007

Anger at UN drink driving in Timor

Stephen Fitzpatrick, Dili

UN staff in East Timor have been severely reprimanded and had an 11pm curfew imposed in an attempt to wipe out rampant drink driving.

One foreign employee has resigned and been sent home after allegedly drunkenly assaulting police when she was stopped while driving erratically in the capital, Dili. A furious head of mission, Indian diplomat Atul Khare, warned staff in a confidential memo last week: "We are GUESTS in this country and we are present here to help the people recover from the trauma of conflict, not to perpetuate it."

Up to six UN workers have been caught drink driving since random breath testing began last week. Two were foreign police officers, who returned blood alcohol readings significantly above 0.05.

It is understood none of the offenders was Australian. About 2000 UN staff serve in East Timor - about 1700 are police from countries including Australia, and the rest bureaucrats.

UN staff caught drink driving face immediate three-month suspensions of their UN driving licences for a first offence, and longer for subsequent offences. Other than the employee who resigned, however, none of those caught in the past week has been sacked or stood down.

"The staffer who resigned left East Timor on Saturday," UNMIT spokeswoman Allison Cooper said yesterday.

Alcohol and drug abuse among the East Timorese population has been identified as at the heart of many of the tiny nation's recent troubles, with violent drunken gangs taking out their frustrations on each other and the property of political opponents.

But Mr Khare's clampdown is the first acknowledgement the UN mission might also be contributing to the problem.

Mr Khare told staff that since March 1, there had been more than 80 traffic accidents where UNMIT vehicles were the only ones involved, and that "the frequency of accidents has been increasing significantly".

A three-hour RBT sweep last Sunday night netted three UN staffers driving over the limit and one who refused to take a breath test. Three vehicles and two weapons were seized, and seven non-UN staff members were found travelling in UN vehicles against regulations.

Two more staffers were caught drink driving on Saturday night after the 11pm curfew.

Mr Khare's desperate memo called on his staff to respect "the basic driving rules and concepts of road safety (which) are similar in all countries".

But many staff with the UN mission regard East Timor, and Dili in particular, as being largely lawless territory.

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