SMALL ISLAND STATES, LEAST DEVELOPED COUNTRIES SEEK URGENT COLLECTIVE ACTION BY GENERAL ASSEMBLY TO

JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA, President of Timor-Leste,
discussing the political situation in his
country, said that in April and May of last year,
less than five years after Timor-Leste’s
accession to full independence, the country had
been plunged into its first major crisis. At
that time, the President, the Speaker of the
Parliament and the Prime Minister had decided to
request urgent assistance from the United Nations
and the rapid intervention of friendly
countries. He thanked all those that had come to
his country’s aid, including Malaysia, Australia,
New Zealand and Portugal. The Security Council
had approved the deployment of the United Nations
Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT).

He said that significant progress had been made
since those “dark weeks”. Presidential and
legislative elections had been held this past
spring. The election period had been mostly
violence-free, and few irregularities had been
reported. At the same time, while the elections
results had been welcome, the announcement of the
new Government had met with some resistance. The
former ruling party, the Revolutionary Front for
an Independent East Timor, won most of the votes,
but not enough to govern on its own.

After several weeks of lobbying, the former
ruling party failed to form a coalition, he
said. A post-election four-party parliamentary
alliance opposed to the Revolutionary Front for
an Independent East Timor secured 37 seats in the
new 65-seat Parliament, and had been invited to
form the Government. Subsequently, there had
been violence in a number of locations, in which
law enforcement entities had been implicated, but
swift United Nations Police and International
Security Forces intervention had brought the
situation quickly under control. Adding that
Timor-Leste’s defence force had played its role
in defusing the situation, he also acknowledged
that the Revolutionary Front for an Independent
East Timor leadership had also helped the
situation by restraining their more passionate followers.

He went on to say that law and order had been
restored, but the relative tranquillity was
precarious. That would remain so until
Timor-Leste’s police force could be reconstructed
and turned into a credible and effective
force. He said that would take a minimum of two
to five years, but meanwhile, the Timorese
Government would continue the national dialogue,
so as to heal the wounds of the past.

He and other senior Government officials had
established a high-level mechanism to address
security sector reform. An expert team of
national and international advisors currently
interface with UNMIT’s own security sector reform
group. The shared goal was to ascertain a sound
strategy for the appropriate reform of
Timor-Leste’s police force and the development of its defence forces.

On the social situation, he said that the 2006
crisis had sparked widespread looting and
destruction in the capital, Dili. More than 30
people died, some 30 had been wounded and tens of
thousands had been displaced. “We are slowly
recovering, however,” he said, adding that the
Government was nevertheless concerned about the
situation of hundreds of thousands of people
living in “precarious” camps in and around
Dili. On related issues, late rains last year,
floods and a locust plague had significantly
damaged the agricultural sector. As a result,
the Government anticipated an acute food shortage
in the coming months and was planning to purchase
significant amounts of food items from regional
markets to fill the expected gaps.

He said that, as of July, Timor-Leste’s petroleum
fund had accumulated more than $1.4
billion. Monthly revenues of some $100 million
were being deposited into the fund, but that had
not translated into any visible improvement in
the lives of the poor. Among other positive
steps, the new Government had accepted his fiscal
reform proposal to turn Timor-Leste into a
tax-free country. However, those and other
initiatives were not enough to improve the living
standards of the people, the vast majority of
whom had been poor for centuries, and, therefore,
could not — and should not — wait.

Having pledged to be the “President of the Poor”,
he said he intended to be their best
advocate. Towards that goal, he was
establishing, among other instruments, a
fast-track mechanism to provide direct assistance
to individuals, groups and rural
communities. With that initiative, coupled with
public investment in infrastructure and the
agriculture sector, Timor-Leste should see, in
the medium-term, a significant reduction in unemployment and poverty levels.

He said his Government was aware that the
international community faced several threats
that could be considered more critical than the
current situation in his country. At the same
time, he hoped that the United Nations would
consider longer-term engagement to help further
stabilize the situation in Timor-Leste, as well
as help strengthen national institutions and consolidate peace and democracy.

Turning to other issues, he expressed concern and
disappointment at current events in Myanmar. He
also expressed concern that the Asian region was
the most weaponized region in the world, and
stressed that its scientists had “Frankenstein
monsters” — nuclear weapons — “that can destroy
us all”. He called on those nations to dismantle
those dangerous weapons as soon as
possible. Finally, he applauded the Assembly for
finally adopting last week the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

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