Feb 02, 2001

East-Timor's final steps on the road to independence

On January 31, 2001, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution stating that East-Timor has to obtain full independence by the end of 2001. While a date has not yet been decided upon, the election of a committee tasked with drafting a new constitution for East-Timor is planned for August this year. However, political leaders realise that the euphoria of quick independence is now being overshadowed by the difficulties of nation building, unemployment, social unrest, serious human rights violations; weak state structures and the lack of economic growth activity. Own revenues are not even enough to cover the running costs of East-Timor’s transitional government structures. It is expected that the new state’s economic sustainability will only be reached by 2005, mainly due to oil exploration in the East-Timor Sea. However, the UN Security Council’s recent request to the UN Transitional Administration for East-Timor (UNTAET), to gradually delegate certain responsibilities to the East Timor Transitional Administration (ETTA), is evidence of a sincerity to strengthen independent governance. A Central Bank precursor was created in Dili, the capital city. The East-Timor Central Payments Office is expected to become the new state’s first central bank. The IMF recently visited East-Timor to discuss its future national currency. Furthermore, the management of Dili’s Comoro airport has been transferred from UN peacekeeping control to civilian contractors. ETTA Minister of Foreign Affairs Ramos Horta, called for the creation of a UN Crimes Tribunal for East-Timor. Militias trained by the Indonesian Army are blamed for a wave of killings and terror campaigns preceding and following the territory’s vote in favour of independence from Indonesia. On March 6th, 500 East-Timorese refugees returned from West-Timor during the first UN- controlled repatriation this year. The refugees had been in militia-controlled camps in West-Timor for more than 18 months. On the whole, UNTAET has been fairly successful in creating political stability and setting the first stages for new government structures, nation building and the development of civil society. Hopefully this would enable a new government to maintain political and socio-economic stability when the moment comes for full independence.

UNPO International Secretariat staff members are currently developing a research project to also include a case study of East-Timor’s road to independence, identifying valuable lessons from which other UNPO Members aspiring self-determination could learn. UNPO News would like to thank Mr José Lobato Concalves of East Timor for his e-mail contribution to this article.

On March 29, Xanana Gusmao resigned as Chairman of the National Council, the interim parliament which has to prepare the provisional constitution. Apparently, Mr. Gusmao was frustrated because members of the Council were not able to make decisions. Mr. Ramos Horta has been appointed as the new Chairman by the United Nations. Mr. Gusmao also declared that he does not plan to become the first president, although he is generally tipped to be the best candidate for that function.