Other Questions. - East Timor.

Paul McGrath


10 Mr. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the situation in East Timor. [8297/00]

Ruairí Quinn


68 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the funds, if any, Ireland has provided to date for humanitarian relief in East Timor; the latest information available on the number of persons still displaced; the additional steps, if any, planned to alleviate suffering having regard to the severe hardship being faced by many people there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8473/00]

Ruairí Quinn


88 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs when the proposed Irish aid office will be established in Dili in view of his recent announcement during his visit to East Timor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7986/00]

Bernard J. Durkan


167 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he and other EU and UN representatives are satisfied with the progress in East Timor; if the democratic progress is taking place in accordance with the aspiration of the people of East Timor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8619/00]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10, 68, 88 and 167 together.

The Government is concerned at the situation in East Timor. The humanitarian situation remains difficult and efforts to establish the institutions of government, rebuild the economy and promote reconciliation are being undermined by a resurgence of militia activity.

In accordance with the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1272, East Timor is now being administered by the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor, UNTAET, established on 25 October 1999. The assumption by UNTAET of all of its functions took place in late February when the earlier peacekeeping force, INTERFET, came to an end, and its assets and personnel, including the Irish contribution, were transferred to UNTAET. UNTAET has a broad mandate to support the transition of East Timor to independence. Its mission is to provide security and to maintain law and order, to establish an administration as well as the capacity for self-government and to help develop civil and social services. It is also tasked with co-ordinating the delivery of humanitarian aid, reconstruction and the development of the economy.

Mr. Sergio de Mello, head of UNTAET, has established a national consultative council on which the different strands of East Timorese political opinion and the Church are represented. While it is not possible to determine precisely how long will be needed for UNTAET to achieve its goals, most estimates are for two or possibly three years, given the size and range of the tasks remaining.

Among the problems to be addressed by UNTAET are the continuing threats from the militias and the obstacles being placed in the way of refugees in West Timor who wish to return. These issues were brought to the attention of the Taoiseach during his visit to East Timor on 9 March, and, in view of their very serious nature, he has raised these concerns with President Wahid of Indonesia, the US Secretary of State, Mrs. Albright, and his EU colleagues.

UNTAET must also address the problems of increasing lawlessness caused, in part, by high unemployment, the increase in rough justice by victims of human rights violations and the integration of Falintil forces into society. UNTAET plans to address these by the speedy delivery of financial resources by the international community and the putting in place of a programme of quick start projects which would provide employment as well as through the establishment of a police force and judicial system which would provide a system of law and order. The demobilisation and reintegration into society of Falintil will require co-operation by its members as well as the political parties.

UNTAET is also taking responsibility for the co-ordination of humanitarian aid. The Government has provided over £900,000 to date in humanitarian assistance to the Timorese people. At least a further £1.1 million will be spent on humanitarian and reconstruction assistance in 2000. In addition, APSO is collaborating with the United Nations volunteer agency to provide volunteers to support the recovery effort.

The UNHCR estimates the number of refugees remaining in West Timor and other parts of Indonesia to be about 110,000. It is widely accepted that up to 60,000 of these may not want to return. The Indonesian Government has set a deadline of 31 March for refugees to decide whether they will return or opt for resettlement in Indonesia. The UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration are facilitating the safe and orderly return of refugees.

The humanitarian situation has stabilised. The provision of shelter, basic health and education remain priorities as does the process of nation building. The recent visit by the Taoiseach to East Timor reflects the Government's commitment to playing its part with the rest of the international community in supporting a successful transition to full independence.

The Government has decided to open an aid office in Dili to manage our programme of assistance and to support the East Timorese people to make a successful transition to full independence. The Department of Foreign Affairs has just completed an assessment visit to East Timor which looked at the priorities for assistance in 2000 in consultation with representatives of the East Timorese people. The assessment visit also offered the opportunity to examine in detail the modalities of establishing a presence on the ground in the context of the overall programme of assistance.

The size and range of the tasks should not be underestimated. The key challenges for UNTAET are, on the one hand, to direct and implement the urgently required programmes of physical and economic reconstruction and development while, on the other, promoting reconciliation and co-operation among the East Timorese people. A further key challenge of this process will be to avoid the development of a dependency mentality on the part of the East Timorese which would only hinder their progress and ability to assume in full the responsibilities of their independence.

Did the Minister of State chuckle, as I did, when she saw the secret Irish rangers photographed with the Taoiseach on the front page of the newspapers? On a more serious note, does she agree that an opportunity exists to upgrade the Irish aid office and to open a consulate in Dili? This might help the process. Has she given consideration to this matter?

When the Taoiseach met the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, in Washington on St. Patrick's Day, did he raise concerns expressed about the use of Indonesian territory in West Timor for militia attacks on East Timor, and the destabilising impact these attacks are having?

We have just finished our second assessment visit to East Timor following the Taoiseach's visit and are in the process of opening our aid office. It would be inappropriate to open a consulate as there is no Government in place at present and there is an interim administration. The aid office will be a way of monitoring the development of our humanitarian assistance to East Timor and liaising with NGOs.

The Taoiseach raised the situation in East Timor and fears expressed by our people and by Xanana Gusmao with Madeleine Albright.