UNMIT officials: Restoring public security in Timor-Leste is paramount

7 Jul 2008

UNMIT officials: Restoring public security in Timor-Leste is paramount

12 October 2006, Dili—With over 50,000 internally displaced people living in makeshift camps in and around the capital city, continued low level fighting in the streets, and elections due to take place in the coming year, UN officials in Timor-Leste at a joint press conference today said that restoring public security is an absolute necessity.

"The need to restore public security in Timor Leste is evident to all. The new UN Integrated Mission in Timor Leste is mandated by the UN Security Council to see that public security is both restored, and maintained. This is necessary so that people feel safe to return to their homes. It is necessary for rule of law and to prevent impunity. It is also necessary so that elections next year will be safe and fair," Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General Finn Reske-Nielsen said. UNMIT Acting Police Commissioner Antero Lopes and Colonel Malcolm Rerden from the Joint Task Force headed by the Australian military also spoke at the press conference.

"While the United Nations police has an interim responsibility for public security throughout Timor-Leste, the goal is to actually ensure that this country will possess an effective and trustworthy Police service in the future. That police service is PNTL—Polisa Nacional de Timor-Leste," Acting Police Commissioner Lopes said.

Lopes announced the reactivation of police operations in Dili district with 50 PNTL officers engaging in policing duties alongside UNPol officers, and with the rekindling of several police stations. Eventually, there will be 12 stations, posts and sites attended by international and Timorese police, he said. Additionally the United Nations Development Programme and UNMIT are funding the rehabilitation of nine traffic and community police hubs in downtown. "Such enhanced security arrangements should have a positive impact in the voluntary resettlement of IDPs in Dili," he said.

The national police force disintegrated in May of this year after fighting between security factions in the capital following deadly protests over the sacking of 600 disgruntled soldiers. PNTL members are currently undergoing a rigorous screening process after which, once cleared, they will be reactivated to work in tandem with UNPol officers and participate in a mentoring programme. Once the whole screening process is completed, the combined total of UNPol and PNTL will be 5,000 strong, with a ratio of five police officers to every 1,000 citizens--one of the highest ratios in the world, Lopes said.

Lopes said United Nations Police (UNPol) deployment is on the increase with a total of 648 currently on the ground and another 200 expected to be deployed here by the end of next week.

Lopes said that while UNMIT is gearing up for a much larger police presence and already engaged in the reconstitution of the national police, he is aware that public security is not ensured completely throughout Dili and he acknowledged the role of the international Joint Task Force made of troops from Australia, Malaysia and New Zealand in providing back up support to UNPol when necessary.

"In a matter of weeks," Lopes said, "We should have the full establishment throughout greater Dili and we should start expanding to the districts throughout Timor-Leste."

Addressing ongoing concerns expressed in the local media on the distribution of weapons to civilians during the crisis, Colonel Rerden said that an extensive international audit conducted by the international police and military had confirmed the location and security of nearly 94 percent of the weapons that had gone missing. Of nearly 3,000 weapons, less than 230 remain unaccounted for, he said. While the international police and military continue to track the missing weapons, the Colonel said, this low number of unaccounted for weapons does not pose a significant threat to the country. Lopes echoed this sentiment and added that the Minister of Interior has tasked all PNTL commanders to make sure all weapons are secured.

After the violence in May, which took the lives of at least 37 and displaced over 150,000, the Security Council unanimously adopted UNMIT's mandate on 25th August this year calling for a robust police presence consisting of up to 1,608 officers, 34 military liaison officers and a significant civilian personnel.

For additional information, please contact: Adrian Edwards, Acting Chief, Public Information Office, UNMIT, +670 723 0453, or Donna Cusumano, Spokesperson, +670 723 0749