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Japanese Friends: Your country can protect Timor-Leste from Australia

International Federation for East Timor (IFET)
PO Box 1182, White Plains, New York 10602 USA

Timor-Leste Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis (La'o Hamutuk)
1/1a Rua Mozambique, Farol, Dili, Timor-Leste

8 September 2006

Dear Friends of Timor-Leste in Japan,

As you're probably aware, the United Nations Security Council recently authorized a new UN Mission in Timor-Leste. UNMIT will include 1,600 police under UN Command, but almost no soldiers. Instead, an Australian-led "Joint Task Force" will be the foreign military component, at least for now. Japan was the main broker of this unfortunate compromise, which involved pressuring the Timor-Leste government to change its request for an integrated UN mission, including a military force.

On 25 August, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1704 creating UNMIT. Australia will continue leading foreign troops, outside of UN command, but the Council directed the Secretary-General to review this issue and report back in two months. The relevant paragraph reads:

"2. [The Security Council r]equests the Secretary-General to review the arrangements to be established between UNMIT and the international security forces, having consulted all stakeholders, including the Government of Timor-Leste and the contributors to international security forces, and present his views no later than 25 October 2006, and affirms that the Council shall consider possible adjustments in the mission structure, including nature and size of the military component, taking into account the above views of the Secretary-General;"

When the issue is reviewed in October, Japan will be President of the Security Council, allowing them to set the agenda and determine how seriously the Council considers restructuring UNMIT's military component.

Timor-Leste's people need and deserve effective and sensitive support from the international community. The UN is far more capable of providing that than the Australian Defence Force. The Japanese government is key to deciding this question; please encourage them to act in the interests of Timor-Leste's people and international peace and security.


Having an Australian-led military force separate from UNMIT is a setback for Timor-Leste's independence and for international peacekeeping. By the time this is re-examined next month, we hope that Japanese friends of Timor-Leste will have changed Japan's position to one more supportive of Timorese wishes and multilateral cooperation.

Japan likes to be seen as a friend of Timor-Leste, and plays a key role in UN decisions regarding that new country. In addition to chairing the UN "Core Group" on Timor-Leste (Australia, Brazil, Japan, New Zealand, Portugal, UK and USA), Japan is the Security Council's "lead country" on Timor-Leste. As such, Japan drafts Security Council resolutions and facilitates diplomatic consensus before an issue reaches public debate.

In August, the Council could not agree on who would command the military component of the new mission. The main obstacle was Australia, which refused to place its soldiers under UN command, even though it had done so under UNTAET and UNMISET. Japan, the UK and the U.S. (which insists on this policy for its own soldiers everywhere) supported Australia.

The UN will not send peacekeeping soldiers to Timor-Leste if there is a separate international military force there. Their experience shows that problems of coordination create too much of an added burden, making it impossible to carry out their tasks. Although the Timor-Leste government clearly wanted a unified UN force, Australia would not yield.

The UN Secretary-General, the Timor-Leste government, NGOs in Timor-Leste, Portugal, Malaysia and the international solidarity movement advocated for a unified military force integrated into the UN Mission. Links to statements and documents can be found at .

The performance of Australia soldiers in Timor-Leste this year has been erratic at best. They often relate poorly to the local people, don't understand the social and political context, and are ineffective in preventing violence. Although the situation has improved in the three months since they arrived, deficiencies in training, attitudes and command are still evident almost every day. Widespread suspicions in Timor-Leste about Australia's motives relating to Timor Sea oil fields and Canberra's rumored part in ousting Mari Alkatiri add to the difficulties of relying on Australia for security.

During the week of 14 August, Security Council members had heated private discussions about Australia's desire to stay out of  the UN mission structure. Japan drafted a Security Council resolution reflecting the Australian position, which generated more argument. Since Timor-Leste was on record opposing this arrangement, Japan asked its ambassador in Dili to talk with recently-installed Prime Minister José Ramos-Horta. The ambassador reported that Ramos-Horta had changed his position. However, a resulting letter from Ramos-Horta (not officially circulated) restated Timor-Leste's earlier view, but added that the Japanese position had some merit. Some Security Council members took this to mean that Timor-Leste was backing down. Because of the confusion about Timor-Leste's position and continued disagreement within the Security Council, on 20 August the Council extended UNOTIL for five more days to look for a compromise.

Five days later, the Council unanimously accepted Australia's position without public discussion, but only for two months. Timor-Leste's friends in Japan and around the world have a little time to make ourselves heard. Changing the Japanese government position is critical.

Please translate and circulate this information to whatever organizations and networks you think are appropriate, and let us know of any actions or responses on this important issue. Thank you.

A luta continua,

Charles Scheiner
International Federation for East Timor

Santina Soares
La'o Hamutuk 

For more information: La'o Hamutuk index page on establishing the UNMIT Mission in Timor-Leste