Subject: UN: Assemby Hails Onset of ET's Transition to Independence

[East Timor excerpts only]

17 December 1999

Press Release GA/9691


Other Actions Aimed at Increasing Security of Humanitarian Personnel, Demining Cooperation, Return of Cultural Property; Observer Status Granted to IUCN

The General Assembly this afternoon decided to remove the question of East Timor from its agenda and next year to consider a new agenda item, entitled, "the situation in East Timor during its transition to independence".

The Assembly took that action without a vote as it adopted a text by whose terms welcomed the successful conduct of the popular consultation of the East Timorese people on 30 August. It took note of the outcome of the consultation, which begins a process of transition for East Timor, under the authority of the United Nations, towards independence.

... Assembly Work Programme

Question of East Timor: background

The United Nations General Assembly placed East Timor on the international agenda in 1960, when it added the territory to its list of Non- Self-Governing Territories. At that time, East Timor was administered by Portugal. Fourteen years later, in 1974, Portugal sought to establish a provisional government and a popular assembly which would determine the status of the Territory. Civil war broke out between those who favoured independence and those who advocated integration with Indonesia. Unable to control the situation, Portugal withdrew. Indonesia then intervened militarily and later integrated East Timor as its twenty-seventh province. The United Nations never recognized this integration, and both the Security Council and the General Assembly called for Indonesia's withdrawal.

In June 1998, Indonesia proposed a limited autonomy for East Timor within Indonesia. In light of this proposal, the talks made rapid progress and resulted in a set of agreements between Indonesia and Portugal, signed in New York on 5 May 1999. The two Governments entrusted the Secretary-General with organizing and conducting a "popular consultation" in order to ascertain whether the East Timorese people accepted or rejected a special autonomy for East Timor within Indonesia. To carry out the consultation, the Security Council established the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) on 11 June 1999. The 5 May agreements stipulated that, after the vote, UNAMET would oversee a transition period pending implementation of the decision of the East Timorese people.

On voting day, 30 August 1999, some 98 per cent of registered voters went to the polls, deciding by a margin of 94,388 (21.5 per cent) to 344,580 (78.5 per cent) to reject the proposed autonomy and begin a process of transition towards independence. Following the announcement of the result, pro-integration militias launched a campaign of violence, looting and arson throughout the entire territory. Many East Timorese were killed and as many as 500,000 were displaced from their homes, about half leaving the territory, in some cases under threat of force.

Following the outbreak of violence, the Indonesian armed forces and police began a drawdown from the territory, eventually leaving completely. Indonesian administrative officials also left. On 28 September, Indonesia and Portugal, at a meeting with the United Nations, reiterated their agreement for the transfer of authority in East Timor to the United Nations. They also agreed that ad hoc measures were required to fill the gap created by the early departure of the Indonesian civil authorities. UNAMET re-established its headquarters in Dili on 28 September, and immediately began efforts to restore the mission's logistical capacity and redeploy UNAMET personnel as conditions allowed.

On 19 October 1999, the Indonesian People's Consultative Assembly formally recognized the result of the consultation. Shortly thereafter, on 25 October, the United Nations Security Council established the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) as an integrated, multidimensional peacekeeping operation fully responsible for the administration of East Timor during its transition to independence.

Report of the Secretary-General

The report of the Secretary-General (document A/54/654) states that in 1982 the then Secretary-General was asked by the Assembly to initiate consultations with all parties, with a view to exploring avenues for achieving a comprehensive settlement of the problem with regard to East Timor. Over the past 17 years three Secretary-Generals -- including himself -- have sought to find a just, comprehensive and internationally acceptable solution to the question of East Timor.

The report goes on to detail: negotiations leading to the 5 May agreements; the establishment of the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET); the establishment of the Independent Electoral Commission; security concerns; delays to the operational phases of the consultation; registration; the campaign period; polling; post consultation violence; the establishment of the multinational forces; and the establishment of the United Nations Transitional Mission in East Timor.

In his observations the Secretary-General says the successful culmination of the tripartite negotiations has led to the settlement of the question of the future status of East Timor. It was a matter of outrage and regret that the consultation process was marred by widespread violence, wanton destruction and massive displacement of the population, organized and perpetrated by elements that opposed East Timor's independence. He congratulated the East Timorese for the new page they have turned in their history and for the perseverance and courage they have shown, particularly during the intimidation and violence that characterized the decisive final stages of the process. Without their determination, the successful conclusion of this process would not have been possible. The United Nations will do its utmost to justify their trust, with respect to all aspects of the work which lies ahead during the transition of East Timor to independence.

Draft Resolution

By the terms of a draft resolution sponsored by Indonesia and Portugal (document A/54/L.73), the Assembly would welcome the successful conduct of the popular consultation of the East Timorese people on 30 August and would take note of its outcome, which began a process of transition under the authority of the United Nations towards independence. It would also welcome the decisions of the Indonesian People's Consultative Assembly on 19 October concerning East Timor in accordance with article 6 of the agreement of 5 May (by which Indonesia formally recognized the result of the popular consultation). The Assembly would also decide to conclude its consideration of the question of East Timor, and to include in the provisional agenda of the fifty-fifth session a new item entitled "the situation in East Timor during its transition to independence". ... Action on Drafts ...

Introduction of Draft

MAKARIM WIBISONO (Indonesia), introducing the draft on the question of East Timor (document A/54/L.73), said that notwithstanding formidable obstacles, his country had been steadfast in its commitment to a just comprehensive and internationally acceptable solution to the question of that Territory. His Government had abided by its responsibility and commitment to see that the choice taken by the East Timorese was respected and that their separation from Indonesia was carried out in an orderly, peaceful and dignified manner. Today, East Timor had begun a process of transition, under United Nations auspices towards eventual independence.

It was therefore both timely and appropriate for the Assembly to close consideration on the question and include in the provisional agenda of its next session a new item, entitled "the situation in East Timor during its transition to independence". He recommended the draft for adoption by consensus.

Introducing the draft on East Timor (document A/54/L.73), ANTONIO MONTEIRO (Portugal) said it represented a landmark not only for East Timor but also for the United Nations. For the East Timorese because they had finally been able to fulfil their legitimate right to self-determination and for the Organization because it had been able to achieve a just, comprehensive and internationally acceptable solution to the question.

He said his country and Indonesia could only express their satisfaction with the draft resolution because it had emerged from the joint efforts of their two countries in close consultation with the Secretariat. He called on the international community to create the right conditions for the reconstruction and transition to independence of East Timor and to ensure that it was a success story.

The Assembly adopted the resolution without a vote, thus concluding its consideration of East Timor.

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