Transcript of UNMIT Press Conference
13 February 2008, 15:00 hrs
UNMIT Headquarters, Obrigado Barracks, Dili, Timor-Leste
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of a press conference by Atul Khare, Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Timor-Leste, and Hermanprit Singh, Acting UNPol Commissioner.
SRSG Atul Khare: Thank you all for coming this afternoon. As you know, I had left for New York on Friday, arrived on Saturday and the very next day on Sunday evening I heard about the events taking place on Monday morning, my Sunday morning in New York. I heard about it at about 6pm New York time which was 8am Timor-Leste time and within two hours of speaking to the Secretary-General by phone, I was on the airport, beginning my return journey. So, in effect, I have been traveling for the last six days, more or less continuously. Soon after my return yesterday afternoon at 5pm, I had a series of long meetings with Prime Minister Gusmao which were continued this morning. Yesterday we spent about three hours together and about two and half hours this morning. Yesterday, I also spent about an hour with the Secretary General of Fretilin, Dr Mari Alkatiri. I have also been spending time of course with my own staff to encourage and motivate them to further continue in their tasks of assisting Timor-Leste at this critical period. You are aware that the Secretary-General has already condemned the incidents on Monday in Timor-Leste and has appealed for calm. Similarly, all members of the Security Council, which met in an emergency meeting, have also condemned the incident and issued a Council Presidential Statement.
I want to share some of the views expressed by some members of the Security Council. South Africa said that those members of the recent Security Council Mission to Timor-Leste were truly saddened by what has happened. Its ambassador recalled that President Ramos-Horta had been using his 'good offices' to resolve the case of fugitive Reinado and he therefore considered it an irony that the President had been hurt while trying to resolve the issue in a peaceful manner. Italy was shocked by the acts of violence which go against the spirit of democracy. Indonesian condemned the acts in the strongest terms and also said these were acts against democracy. Libya also condemned the attacks and so did Vietnam. Burkina Faso, vigorously condemning the attacks, expressed support for the government and the legitimate institutions. United Kingdom and Russia also condemned the attacks in the strongest terms. Similar statements were also made by China, France, Croatia, Panama, The Unties States, Costa Rica and Belgium. I must also say that member states of the Security Council also praised the reaction of the Timorese leaders and the population.
I have said before that a country is not defined by an absence or lack of crisis, but rather it is defined by how the challenge of the crisis is faced and overcome. Monday's events were a severe test for Timor-Leste, but the initial report card is very good. The Timorese people have remained calm and there has been no violence and I commend them for this patience and self-control. The Government and the Parliament have reacted in a very mature, sober and responsible manner. Within the Parliament, the opposition, or the single largest party outside the Government, has also behaved in a responsible manner. All decisions which are being taken are being taken according to the constitution and applicable laws of Timor-Leste. I make this point because this was one of the challenges noticed by the International Special Commission of Inquiry which was formed to look into the events of 2006.
There are other issues which will probably come out during questions, but I want to say a word about President Dr Jose Ramos-Horta. Obviously I wish him a very fast and full recovery. I am anxious to see him back soon exercising his functions as President. He has played, and plays, a crucial role in leading this country on its path to development and on enhancing its culture of democracy. He is a personal friend whom I respect a lot. And therefore I look forward to resuming my weekly meetings with him as soon as it is possible. I must also commend the reaction of Prime Minister Gusmao. Within hours of being attacked, he was back in his office coordinating this nation's response and talking to other leaders, including Mari Alkatiri. I wish him all success and stand ready to assist him in whatever manner he desires the United Nations to be of help. Some of you might be aware that the meeting of the Security Council has been postponed. It will now be held on the 21 February and I hope that at that point in time, it will be possible for the Council to consider and support the recommendations the Secretary-General had made for an extension of the mandate of UNMIT.
Before I conclude, I would also like to thank all of you, the media. I've been told and I do believe that over the past few days the media has played its role as a watchdog of democratic institutions in a good and responsible manner. I must also commend Vitor Alves, the adopted father of Reinado- I met him today along with Prime Minster Gusmao and he joined PM Gusmao in appealing to the people of Timor-Leste to maintain calm. Finally, a word on Reinado and one more person who died- you know, I'm a man of peace and any person's death affects me. And I trust that God will give peace to the souls of those who have departed this world. Thank you very much.
Spokesperson Allison Cooper: Are there any questions?
Q: Why was the whole system of the mission in terms of security forces, so, I would say so negligent especially because between the first and second attack there was no special measures taken- how would you explain that? And again, repeating the question of General Ruak, how was it possible that all the systems of control and surveillance didn't play a role in these incidents?
AK: I never comment on the statements of others. I only explain the position of the United Nations and the situation as I see it. The President had himself requested that the security at his residence be provided by F-FDTL. This was the case since December 2006. And this being a sovereign and independent country, we respected the wishes of the President. Also the President had requested that his close protection when he moves out be provided by PNTL, and on his request I had agreed to the same. It is also true that all available signs were demonstrating that Reinado was responding positively to the efforts of Dr. José Ramos-Horta. But having said that, it is equally important that all agencies must try and draw lessons from Monday's events to see how the situation can be even further improved in the future. As far as the events between the attack on the President and the attack on the Prime Minister are concerned, there are two separate teams composed both of UNPol and PNTL who are investigating these two cases and I hope that we will soon receive their report which will clarify what was happening. Separately, as you are aware, Australia has sent 140 military officers and also 70 police officers yesterday. These police officers have got the investigative capabilities that we do not have in this country. And I met with the Australian Ambassador and my people are working out arrangements on command control and operation between the new Australian police officers and the UNPol and PNTL.
Q: Can you confirm that the Prosecutor-General has issued 18 arrest warrants over the events? And does this mean the security forces weren't looking for these people before now. And secondly, Fretilin at their press conference today, said that there was intelligence three days before the attacks. Can you confirm whether this is true or not?
AK: First of all, I cannot either confirm nor deny what the Prosecutor-General has done, but yesterday night I had requested the Prime Minister to request the Prosecutor-Gernal to expedite the issue as far as warrants, and this morning I was told by the Prime Minister that this process was being expedited. As far as advanced intelligence from three days ago was concerned, as far as I'm aware, this intelligence was not available to those who could act upon it, namely the police, the ISF or the military and I think the investigation should also look into the fact that why was the information, if available, not passed onto those who could have acted upon it.
Q: You mentioned that the investigation has been carried out. Who has been interrogated and how many people have been interrogated.
AK: I think that all the people present in Dr Jose Ramos- Horta's house or near his house have been interviewed- about 11 people.
Q: According to Mari Alkatiri's press conference, Fretilin is expecting an early election to be held mid-next year- how would you respond to that? And secondly, is there anything you can do to help the family of Alfredo Reiando?
AK: There is hardly anything I can do about the expectations, hopes or desires of anyone including those of Dr Mari Alkatiri. In my view, free, fair and peaceful elections were held last year. A political party accord had been concluded before the parliamentary elections on 26 May, outlining the principles of good governance and which said that there should be a constructive and meaningful role for civil society and the opposition. I think what is important now is to make the results of the last election work and to ensure that the existence of healthy political differences does not come in the way of the resolution of pressing problems such as those of IDPs and petitioners. Also there are some issues which are clearly of national interest which should be beyond partisan considerations such as review and reform of the security sector, strengthening of the justice sector, socio-economic development and strengthening the culture of democracy. Finally as far as early elections are concerned, I believe that if the pressing problems are resolved, it is a decision that has to be taken by the Timorese authorities and the Timorese people and of course the United Nations would be of assistance should they take any decision one way or another. As far as assistance to the family of the late Alfredo Reinado, in getting his body to them, we have already been working with PM Gusmao and as we speak I understand that the body has been handed over. The body has been taken under the escort of the UN Formed Police Unit, the Portuguese GNR, to the house of Senior Vitor Alves. There will be a mass today and tomorrow the body will be buried, probably in the compound of the house itself. The police (UNPol and PNTL) will be providing security to the house and to the family members of Senior Vitor Alves.
Q: A question for the Acting UNPol Commissioner Hermanprit Singh- how many arrest warrants have been issued? [question inaudible]
HS: The material evidence including ballistic evidence from incriminating documents and some telephone sim cards have been obtained and a detailed interim report has been sent to the Prosecutor General today. We expect to get four arrest warrants issued based on the evidence collected so far. For both cases, separate progress reports have been sent to the Prosecutor General. Eleven direct eyewitness were examined, most of them F-FDTL members and members of the family of the President. Some other witnesses will be examined; some corroborating witnesses who may not be direct witnesses will be examined. This is as much of the progress of investigation we can give away to you without compromising the investigations.
Q: You mentioned before incriminating evidence- Can you tell us what kind of evidence? [question inaudible]
HS: I cannot comment on that now. What I can comment on is the investigative part- we are making as of now, the initial investigation; we are submitting evidence including incriminating documents to the Prosecutor General against four individuals.
Q: I would like to ask Mr Atul Khare, yesterday at the press conference of Taur Matan Ruak, he said that F-FDTL had now twice become a victim, first in 2006 and now in 2008, and requested the UN to take responsibility for what happened. What is the response of the Untied Nations?
AK: As I said before, I do not comment on the statements of others and as far as responsibility is concerned, I believe that all of us have a responsibility for the stability, security, peace and prosperity of this country- first and foremost the Timorese and second of all the international community who is assisting them.
Q: Regarding the two incidents, there have been some requests from some Timorese leaders to establish an independent commission to investigate those cases. Can you comment? And who is responsible for security because according to the F-FDTL, they were only responsible for the security of the President's residence and that overall security was the responsibility of UNPol?
AK: As far as international independent investigations are concerned, let me assure you that I, as a person who believes in transparency and accountability, have always been in all cases in favour of international independent investigations. Therefore if I receive a request from the authorities of Timor-Leste, I will strongly support it. However, there is very little point in having a series of international independent investigations if we do not fully, comprehensively and truthfully implement the recommendations. You would remember that at the request of the authorities of Timor-Leste an independent special commission of inquiry looked into the incidents of 2006. While there has been progress in implementation of some of the recommendations made by the commission of inquiry, there are a large number of recommendations which still remain to be implemented. And I would suggest, that in this point in time, apart from calls for international investigations into these cases which happened on Monday, which I support, there should also be renewed efforts for full implementation of all the recommendations of the commission of inquiry. As far as the comments about the President's security or the arrangements for the President's security are concerned, they are obviously correct because F-FDTL was responsible for security within the residence, which as you know, was invaded by the people belonging to Reinado's group and by Reinado. But of course responsibility for security outside of the residence is that of the police, particularly the UN Police, which we accept fully.
Q: Regarding the military operations in the hills today that are looking for the 18 suspects which the General (Taur Matan Ruak) identified, what kind of threat do you think they still pose to security? [question inaudible]
AK: I have the greatest faith in ISF and believe that they have done a tremendous job over the last two years. As you know yesterday, 140 extra people from the ISF with even more exceptional capabilities arrived in Timor-Leste, so I do believe that they will be able to undertake the operation to apprehend the people whom they have been requested to apprehend by the PM and the Prosecutor General. As far as documents are concerned, I will give the floor to the Acting Police Commissioner.
Q: Can you please just tell us what threat you think the 18 suspects pose? [question inaudible]
AK: I believe the existence of armed people who have lost their leader is a threat to the country, not a threat of de-stabilization, but nevertheless a serious threat. They can create isolated incidences with extremely deleterious consequences.
HP: The documents are privy, they cannot be revealed just yet, neither their content nor what they relate to, till they are produced to the Prosecutor.
Spokesperson Allison Cooper: Thank you everyone. That concludes the press conference.