East Timorese criticise UN role
By Jon Land
United Nations officials have come under heavy criticism from leaders of the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT). In a move to reduce tension between CNRT and the United Nations Administration in East Timor, the head of UNTAET, Sergio Vieira de Mello, held "informal" talks with CNRT leader Xanana Gusmao in the town of Aileu on November 17.
On his arrival in Dili the previous day, de Mello played down the rift, telling reporters that he will be working in "very, very close coordination and consultation with the East Timorese leadership". He stressed that he considered relations with the CNRT "not strained at all".
In recent weeks, several CNRT leaders have charged UN representatives with sidelining them and other Timorese community leaders during this crucial stage of reconstruction and transition to independence. They accused UNTAET of acting in a "neo-colonial" fashion and relating to East Timorese in a patronising way.
CNRT leaders Leandro Isaac and Mario Carrascalao have spoken out angrily about the UN. Isaac told reporters on November 15 that the UN was "putting up obstacles to the existence of the CNRT ".
In an interview with ABC radio aired on the same day, CNRT representative David Ximenes spoke bitterly of the neo-colonial actions and attitudes of the big aid agencies.
Gusmao also stated that non-government organisations were operating in a "clandestine way". "This is not the way to treat our people. If they don't want to coordinate with us, because we know very well what our people need, they can leave", he said.
Representatives of the Catholic Church and humanitarian agencies responded by alleging that the CNRT is "uncoordinated" and "uninterested" in attending project coordination meetings and is experiencing internal divisions.
Further talks between CNRT and UNTAET have been planned over the next few weeks. Ross Mountain, the coordinator of UN humanitarian operations in East Timor, claimed that the criticism of the UN was due mainly to "communication problems".
Mountain told the Portuguese news service Lusa on November 17, "I think there were failures in communications, and we want to resolve this quickly. This is East Timor — it belongs to the Timorese, and we will continue to do whatever possible to involve them to the maximum."
Bishop Belo has entered the fray, condemning the UN over the delay in investigations into atrocities conducted by the Indonesian military and the militia gangs. He fears (along with many others, including UNTAET personnel) that the UN team investigating human rights abuses will arrive too late.
Belo told Reuters on November 15, "It is too late already. We still don't have this team present in East Timor ... some of the bodies have already disappeared and some of the places where the crimes were committed have already been cleaned up."
Approval for a commission to begin investigations in East Timor was finally granted by the UN Economic and Social Council on November 15, more than six weeks after the special session of the UN Commission for Human Rights called for such an investigation. The investigative team is to report to the secretary-general by December 31, after which a decision will be made whether to establish a war crimes tribunal.
Belo believes that the delay is a concession to the Indonesian government, stating, "This diplomacy ... is giving Indonesia the opportunity to avoid the institution or establishment of this tribunal".