Clark backs UN plan for action on East Timor

By Mike Houlahan

New Zealand is keen to see international action to help rebuild East Timor following the release of a new United Nations report on the troubled country.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has recommended that a programme of international assistance to East Timor be set up as part of his report on progress towards settling grievances from widespread killings in the country in 1999.

Between 1200 and 1500 East Timorese were killed in violent struggles which preceded the 1999 referendum for independence from Indonesia. Both countries have since taken part in several commissions and investigations aimed reconciling Indonesia and its former territory.

"The New Zealand Government is keen to see the UN make some decisions about the shape of its future programme for East Timor," Prime Minister Helen Clark said through a spokesman. "We're keen to see what they have in mind."

The report signals a renewed interest and commitment to East Timor from the United Nations, which had been on the brink of closing its offices in Dili when rioting broke out in May.

Mr Annan said Indonesia and East Timor needed to make further efforts in bringing people who committed serious crimes in 1999 to justice.

"The United Nations, for its part, will remain available to consider any future requests for assistance to that end," Mr Annan said.

He called on the Security Council to endorse the establishment of a new UN programme of international assistance for East Timor, which would include a solidarity fund made up from voluntary contributions from member nations.

The UN would also promote programmes of community restoration and of justice.

Mr Annan said much good work had already been done to obtain justice for the victims of crimes committed in 1999, but more needed to be done. Indictments had only been issued for around 40 per cent of the killings committed in 1999.

A special UN commission investigating the May violence arrived in the East Timor capital of Dili at the weekend. Troops from several countries, including New Zealand, were rushed to East Timor to help to restore law and order.

Helen Clark said those countries were carrying a big load and New Zealand was keen to see further UN involvement in East Timor.

"For the size of our country we do have a significant aid programme there, alongside the commitment we are now making with our troops there," the Prime Minister said.

"We're very committed to East Timor ... we're looking forward to seeing what the UN has in mind."

Green Party Foreign Affairs spokesman Keith Locke welcomed the report and the UN's continued commitment to East Timor.

"New Zealand should support Kofi Annan's statement.

"The UN has a very significant and important role to play and it just can't be left to the East Timorese working out relationships for themselves."

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