Dáil Éireann - Volume 565 - 09 April, 2003

Written Answers. - Foreign Conflicts.

  57. Mr. English asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the state of progress in establishing democracy and independence in East Timor. [10031/03]

  Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): Timor Leste became a sovereign state on 20 May 2002. A decision to establish diplomatic relations with Timor Leste was taken by the Government on 15 October 2002. Last month, the Government announced that Ireland had accorded Timor Leste programme country status for development co-operation purposes. This announcement is recognition of the significant progress made to date in Timor Leste, and demonstrates our continuing commitment to the political and socio-economic development of Timor Leste, and to the promotion of good governance and human rights in these crucial formative years. The Ireland Aid Timor Leste country strategy covers the period 2003-05, and provides for funding of more than €11 million.

  My colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development and human rights, Deputy Kitt, visited Timor Leste from 9-13 March 2003, and met with President Gusmao, Prime Minister Alkatiri, the special representative of the United Nations Secretary General, the commander of the UN peacekeeping forces, and members of international and national civil society organisations. I met with Foreign Minster Ramos Horta at the UN on 16 September 2002. During our meeting, he briefed me on developments in Timor Leste, and emphasised the need for continuing support from the international community for the judicial sector, and the Indonesian Special Human Rights Court.

  In their efforts to build a nation, the people of Timor Leste have shown great political maturity, and good progress has been made in the establishment of democracy there. Free and fair elections to a Constituent Assembly and for the position of President, were held in 2002. Every effort is being made by the new government to consolidate the fragile democratic institutions and the rule of law.

  The current focus is on building and developing local government, and it is hoped that local government elections will be held later this year. Reforms are also under way in the public service, including the police and the judicial service. We welcome the government of Timor Leste's commitment to respect human rights. A National Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconcili[174] ation has been established, and is in the process of investigating human rights abuses in the period leading up to independence. Diplomatic relations have been established with Indonesia, and a special commission has been set up to delineate the border between the two countries.

  In spite of the achievements of the past three years, and despite continued progress, there are still major tasks to be accomplished in the coming months, and years. Timor Leste faces a number of challenges as one of the poorest nations in South East Asia. There is a critical need for continued support of the international community.

  On the security front, Under-Secretary General Guéhenno briefed the UN Security Council in March 2003, and pointed to two potentially, worrying developments: the threat of civil disturbance, and a rise in the activity of armed groups in rural areas. He added that there are significant deficiencies in the ability of the authorities to address these threats, and recommended a delay in the downsizing of the international military and police presence in UNMISET. The Security Council will continue to monitor developments in Timor Leste. Ireland will continue to play its part in the provision of ongoing international support for Timor Leste and will continue to follow developments there very closely.