Tuesday, 19 October 2004

Questions (53, 54, 55)

Phil Hogan

Question:

183 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the security and political situation in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25207/04]

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Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

359 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the situation in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25519/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 183 and 359 together.

The presidential election in Afghanistan, the first election to be held since the 1960s, took place on 9 October 2004. This election constitutes the penultimate step in the implementation of the Bonn agreement of December 2001, on arrangements for the re-establishment of permanent government institutions in Afghanistan. The holding of parliamentary elections, scheduled for April 2005, will complete this process. Counting of the votes will take place over the next few weeks, following which the result of the presidential election will be announced. A panel of independent election experts has also been established by the UN to investigate a number of reported irregularities in the election process and it is expected to complete its work shortly.

The fact that millions of Afghan nationals turned out to vote, many of them braving severe weather conditions and difficult terrain, was particularly encouraging, and bodes well for the future stability of Afghanistan. The election day passed without a major security incident, which is a tribute to both the Afghan police and armed forces, as well as to the international security forces in Afghanistan. Notwithstanding this, however, the security situation in Afghanistan remains a source of concern. This concern is fuelled by the recent deplorable murders of foreign nationals involved in humanitarian and reconstruction work, a number of attacks on personnel involved in preparations for elections, as well as on some of the candidates, and continued factional fighting in the north west of the country. It is important that the international community remains focused on how best to support Afghanistan in the period ahead.

The decision of the UN Security Council on 17 September 2004 to extend the mandate of the NATO-led international security assistance force in Afghanistan, ISAF, for a further 12 month period beyond 13 October 2004 is an important development in this regard. The agreement by NATO, at its summit in Istanbul in June 2004, to provide an additional 3,500 NATO troops to supplement ISAF, together with the deployment of a number of new provincial reconstruction teams, PRTs, in recent months, are also positive developments.

In order to ensure a secure environment in Afghanistan, it is important that all irregular forces are disarmed and demobilised, or integrated into the national army. I welcome the steps already taken towards this end, but much more needs to be done so that the future Afghan government has unified armed forces at its disposal. To this end, I strongly urge all concerned to make a full commitment to the vigorous implementation and intensification of the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process.

As for supporting Afghanistan's overall reconstruction, the EU committed some €2.3 billion at the 2002 Tokyo conference to cover the five year period 2002-06. At the Berlin conference in spring 2004, the EU updated its reconstruction pledge committing $2.2 billion for the period 2004-06. In 2003, the European Commission delivered over €300 million in assistance to Afghanistan. For 2004, commitments have already been made for a total of €136.5 million. Since January 2002, Ireland has committed €17 million to reconstruction and recovery programmes in Afghanistan. This funding is being channelled through the Afghanistan reconstruction trust fund, ARTF, UN agencies, international organisations and trusted NGO partners. Ireland also provided €800,000 to support the conduct of the presidential election, through the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP. Ireland's contribution to Afghanistan remains one of the highest, on a per capita basis, of any EU member state.

The House will be aware of the grave problems that flow from the resurgence of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. Ireland, together with our EU partners, fully supports the Afghan transitional authority's uncompromising stance on the illicit cultivation of and trafficking in drugs. Afghanistan will continue to face many serious challenges in the period ahead and will therefore continue to need extensive support from the international community. Ireland and our partners in the European Union are determined to play our part in this process.

Billy Timmins

Question:

184 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will provide an up-to-date account of the political situation in East Timor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25237/04]

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The government and people of Timor Leste have continued to make good progress in building up their country, with continuing support from the international community, including from Ireland and the EU as a whole. The development of their economy and the consolidation of their democratic institutions is ongoing.

On 23 August 2004 the United Nations Secretary General provided a report on Timor Leste to the Security Council. The Secretary General observed that remarkable achievements had been registered by the new state, most notably the fact that Timor Leste has been peaceful and largely stable since taking over responsibility for security from the UN mission there. The registration of voters for the forthcoming local elections has also been encouraging. Previous reports of the UN Secretary General also commented on advances in the areas of governance, enactment of legislation, rehabilitation of infrastructure, responsible development planning and budgetary discipline, the country's regional integration, and, most importantly, the commitment to democratic norms and personal freedoms.

On 21 May 2002, the United Nations Security Council established a UN mission of support in East Timor, UNMISET. In Resolution 1543 of 14 May 2004, the Security Council backed the recommendations of the Secretary General to extend UNMISET for a consolidation phase, in the expectation that its mandate would be completed by 2005. On 19 May 2004, UNMISET handed over all official responsibility for policing and external security to the government of Timor Leste.

Resolution 1543 highlights the need to ensure against impunity for those who have committed criminal acts. It stresses, in particular, the need for the serious crimes unit, set up under UNMISET, to investigate serious crimes committed in the period leading up to Timor Leste's independence, to complete all investigations by November 2004 and to conclude trials and other activities no later than 20 May 2005. The resolution calls for continued and co-ordinated UN and donor support to Timor Leste. Also, it calls on the UN Secretary General to report to the Security Council every three months on the situation in Timor Leste.

Despite continued progress, and the achievements of the past three years, Timor Leste continues to face a number of major challenges. These include the building up of support for core administrative capacities, strengthening the justice system and creating a favourable climate for sustainable social and economic development. Timor Leste remains one of the poorest nations in the world, and there remains a critical need for the continued support of the international community.

Good progress has been made on negotiating the maritime boundary between Timor Leste and Australia. Negotiations on this issue are expected to be completed by the end of 2004. There has also been progress in the demarcation of the land boundary with Indonesia.

Ireland has demonstrated its continuing commitment to the political and socio-economic development of Timor Leste through according it programme country status for development co-operation purposes in March 2003. The country strategy paper for Timor Leste sets out the strategy for Ireland's official programme of development assistance to Timor Leste for 2004-06, to which the Government has allocated funding of more than €11 million over the period. The focus of the programme, which has a 2004 budget of €3.7 million, is on capacity building for the public sector and support for Timor Leste's national development plan for reducing poverty through the delivery of essential services and the strengthening of governance and human rights. 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.