The Future of UNMIT?

The United Nations has extended the UNMIT mission in Timor-Leste for another year. There’s plenty for it to do.

J. Berkshire Miller

Last month, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1969, which extended the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) for an additional year. The Timorese government continues to be fully supportive of UNSCR 1969, and recognizes the importance of UNMIT in maintaining secure ground conditions in the lead up to the next election in 2012.

Shortly before UNSCR 1969 was adopted, Timorese Vice Prime Minister José Luís Guterres spoke to his colleagues at the United Nations about the need for peace building missions to reflect the ‘unique properties and historical context’ of the host nation. These thoughts were echoed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who noted that in addition to recognizing national and cultural properties, peace building missions had to remain vigilant and maintain patience. With this point in mind, UNMIT should therefore accept that the transition to secure and transparent state institutions in Timor-Leste will last beyond 2012.

The most tangible goal for UNMIT is to improve the security infrastructure of the capital, Dili, and surrounding areas. Continuing to focus its efforts on enhancing capacity building and reform programmes aimed at the National Police of Timor-Leste (NPTL), UNMIT is banking its resources on the premise that a credible police force will provide sufficient protection to voters with an impending election on the horizon. All parties want to avoid the violence that took place during the 2007 elections, which left two civilians dead, over 100 injured and nearly 7,000 displaced from their homes.

UNMIT’s main strategic challenge in preparing for the next election is that it doesn’t have enough ‘boots on the ground’ to blanket all of Timor-Leste’s 13 administrative districts. While maintaining a strong presence in Dili, UNMIT continues to face challenges in other districts such as Baucau and Viqueque (areas that suffered some of the worst violence in 2007).

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

Ensuring that the NPTL is ready to take full control of these areas after UNMIT’s mandate is finished in 2012 is now the primary concern of the United Nations and the mission’s contributing countries. The logical precursor to this is socio-economic development across Timor-Leste’s administrative districts. The Timorese government should continue promoting rural development while providing employment opportunities in a fair and transparent manner throughout the country.

In addition, state authorities need to clearly delineate the roles and responsibilities between the NPTL and the Timorese military forces. Last, the justice sector should continue the process of reform and enhancement to earn the legitimacy and authority that it’s empowered with by law.