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Annan Says UN Must Resume East Timor Peacekeeping Operations


U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says it is clear the world body will have to resume peacekeeping operations in East Timor in the wake of recent violence. Mr. Annan criticized the decision to shut down an earlier mission.

In an unusually blunt speech, Mr. Annan told the Security Council that it deserves part of the blame for the recent unrest in East Timor. He suggested that the clashes which killed more than 30 people might have been averted if the United Nations had sustained its commitment to helping the young nation, also known as Timor-Leste, build democratic institutions and processes.

"Today, those institutions and processes stand exposed," he said. "The sad events of recent weeks reflect shortcomings not only on the part of the Timorese leadership, but also on the part of the international community in inadequately sustaining Timor-Leste's nation-building process. We have learned at a painful price for Timor-Leste that the building of institutions on the basis of fundamental principles of democracy and rule of law is not a simple process that can be completed within a few short years."

The U.N. administered East Timor from 1999, when it voted for independence, until 2002. But the world body's presence was gradually reduced until all peacekeeping operations were closed in May 2005.

In his brief remarks to the Security Council, Mr. Annan did not blame any specific countries for the decision to pull out. He mentioned only "the international community." But later, when asked by a reporter whether the decision to withdraw had been a mistake, he had this to say.

"I am inclined to agree with you," he said. "This is why, when we were scaling back, we tried to do it as slowly as possible, but of course, we are in the hands of our Member States. But I think, as I said, there are lessons here, and I hope we have all learned that lesson."

Mr. Annan said any new mission will have to be significantly larger than the 2,000-strong Australian-led force sent to quell the latest violence.

"It is obvious that the U.N. will have to go back to Timor-Leste in a much larger form than we are at the moment," he said. "And we will need to send an assessment mission on the ground to determine exactly what needs to be done."

Riots broke out in late April after East Timor's prime minister fired nearly 600 soldiers who had complained about discrimination in the ranks.

Secretary-General Annan said Tuesday he will ask U.N. human rights chief Louise Arbour to set up an independent inquiry commission to investigate the violence.

Mr. Annan's special envoy to East Timor Ian Martin urged the Security Council Tuesday to extend any future peacekeeping mission to provide long term-development of a national police force.