UN wraps up East Timor mission

UN wraps up East Timor mission

UN wraps up East Timor mission

Updated 31 December 2012, 16:52 AEST

The United Nations is officially ending its peacekeeping mission in East Timor today.

The United Nations is officially ending its peacekeeping mission in East Timor today.

Along with troops from Australia and New Zealand, the UN has maintained a presence in Asia's youngest nation for seven years.

Ameerah Haq, UN under-secretary general and former head of the UN mission in East Timor, says a 'liquidation team' will take over from peacekeepers.

"As of Monday, the liquidation team will be there," she said.

"They are the ones who are unscrewing all the light bulbs."

They just saw it collapse before their eyes and it was like: 'we did this to ourselves'.

It was a watershed moment in their experience.

Ameerah Haq, former head of the UN mission in East Timor

The UN played a key role in the birth of East Timor.

It organised the 1999 referendum that ended 24 years of Indonesian occupation, and helped run East Timor until 2002, when an independent government took over.

But in 2006, East Timor's Government was forced to ask for international help, when soldiers sacked from the army launched a mutiny, which sparked factional violence that left dozens dead and 150,000 in makeshift camps.

"You don't want to say that a country learned by crisis," Ms Haq said.

"They just saw it collapse before their eyes and it was like: 'we did this to ourselves'.

"It was a watershed moment in their experience."

Challenges ahead

The country has now had two relatively calm presidential elections, the 3,000 strong police force has been retrained district-by-district and the judiciary reformed.

Ms Haq says the UN can count East Timor as a success because of government cooperation and the size of the country.

"In Timor, everything happened as it should," she said.

Audio: E Timor's 'story not at an end' (ABC News)

"We had great access to the leadership, we had complete freedom of movement within the country."

Jim Dunn, author and former adviser to the UN Mission in East Timor, says although progress has been made in East Timor, many challenges still remain.

"One of the most important areas where they haven't made a lot of progress is developing a self-sustaining economy - in other words, producing things other than oil that can sustain the economic development of East Timor," he said.

"I'm sure they will make progress, but the oil resources may peter out in 2024, so really they haven't got a lot of time. After that Timor may well be, on its very limited resources, a very poor country.

"In terms of the lot of the ordinary people, it still is a rather poor country. The infrastructural development is mostly in Dili and the major towns, but if you go outside not much has changed, the road system is not good, not nearly good enough for a country like East Timor."

Mr Dunn told Radio Australia's Connect Asia the international community has a vital role to play in ensuring the country's future stability.

"I'd like to see the international community still represented through the UN, and there has been discussion about leaving an advisory office in East Timor.

"It certainly does need a presence because there are some areas which are rather worrying. One is, I think, the defence area. In 2006 and after, the country got very close to civil war because of conflict involving tribal areas. And unfortunately those rivalries still exist, and I think that needs to be watched very carefully.

"The outside community needs to be ever ready to give help to East Timor, and I think the most important thing is to watch developments very carefully."

East Timor is now attracting more international interest, particularly in its significant oil and gas reserves.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited in September, China built the presidential palace and military headquarters. Brazil is also a key source of aid, while Cuba has trained hundreds of Timorese doctors.

Ms Haq said East Timor knows that it must now concentrate on lifting the half of the 1.1 million population living below the poverty line.

ABC/Wires