Seventh Anniversary of East Timorese Independence
East Timor is a former UNPO member, and now holds the status of supporting member. The UNPO is proud to have worked with East Timor towards the goal of independence, and would like to express its congratulations on reaching this landmark.
Below is an interview conducted on the eve of achievement of independence, with Michael van Walt van Praag, legal advisor to the UNPO who had worked in East Timor for six months prior to the declaration of independence.
A: I worked as legal advisor of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Jose Ramos-Horta in facilitating the transition to independence of East Timor. That involved prioritisation and preparing East Timor’s accession to a number of international treaties, which would make it possible for East Timor to operate as a fully independent state after independence on the 20th of May. I also provided advice on a number of issues, legal and political, relating to East Timor’s future international position. So we looked at two broad areas of treaties which are important to East Timor because of its moral standing and position as a small state in that part of the world. One of the areas is disarmament, nuclear non-proliferaton and humanitarian law, all treaties that have to do with reducing the use internationally of weapons of mass destruction and weapons that cause unnecessary harm and damage to civilians.
The other area being the mulilateral human rights treaties. During the time I was there we started preparing for both of these groups of treaties which include the International Criminal Court Statute and the Convention of the Status of Refugees. In addition treaties that relate to diplomatic and consular relations had to be prepared. And of course preparing for the application and membership of East Timor to the United Nations which should formally take place in the third week of September.
Q: In terms of economic treaties was there much work to be done?
Q: As a new state, with small economic means, how will East Timor approach representing itself internationally?
That is a problem which many East Timor are aware of, that they’ve not been treated entirely fairly in terms of this treaty and hopefullty some day there will be some chance of revising it. But even under the current agreement East Timor will get sufficient revenue to become largely self-sufficient. In the meantime its going to be very difficult, so the East Timorese have decided to open only five embassies abroad, and that’s probably the limit of the budget they are going to have. Even those are being opened to some extent with the assistance of the host countries. Portugal will be assisting the establishment of the embassy in Portugal, Malaysia will be assisting in establishing one in Kualur Lumpur, and there will be one in the United States, most likely in New York, to serve both the United Nations and also as the Embassy to the US. There will be one at the European Union in Brussels and a very important embassy in Jakarta Indonesia - the largest embassy and perhaps the most difficult one to manage.
Q: What’s the mood of the population now generally that they have achieved independence and are faced with the economic and political challenges that entails?
For the last two years East Timor was under United Nations administration which again was a mixed blessing. I don’t know if any other organisation could have managed this transition as well as the UN did. I think they did a good job. At the same time their presence was an overwhelming one, a huge bureaucracy and a very expensive one. It created a kind of artificial economy, particularly in Dili but also elsewhere, whereby all the prices went up tremendously to cater to the international expats who were there, making a lot of things no longer accessible to the East Timorese, but at the same time pumping a little bit of money into the economy. Now with the end of that administration and the withdrawal of a lerge number of UN personnel that artificial economy is collapsing, and that’s creating a new difficulty to cope with. So its mixed feelings. Politically, I think clearly everybody is happy.
Some fear possible return of violence from some of the pro-integration militia who may still be upset about the outcome. They’ve been supported and organised by Indonesian military and although the relationship between Indonesia and East Timor now are very good, and both sides have been working hard to make them good, there are still elements in the military that are not reliable and are not being controlled. The same elements that are causing trouble in the South Mollucas, Papua and Acheh could also always cause some trouble for East Timor. Not inside East Timor, because they are not there, but in relation to East Timor, they could still cause trouble. There’s some anxiety among the population. The government seems to be quite confident that nothing major will go wrong. There are still thousands of UN troops, especially along the border area, and still a multinational civilian police force, so there is a kind of buffer guarantee for security. But much of the population still has an uneasy feeling of what might happen when East Timor is left alone.
Q: What was your impression of the country?
Q: Does Suharto’s family and some of the military still have economic interests in East Timor?