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Australian Friends: Stop Your Government from Blocking the UN Mission

19 August 2006

Dear Australian Friends,

As you're probably aware, the UN is stuck on authorizing the new, increased UN Mission in Timor-Leste. Yesterday, the Security Council extended UNOTIL for a third short-term period, until 25 August. They cannot achieve consensus on including all foreign soldiers in Timor-Leste under a UN-led, command structure.

Australia is the main obstacle, refusing to "blue-hat" your soldiers. The UK and the U.S., which insists on this policy for its own soldiers around the world, support Australia.

The UN Secretary-General, the RDTL government, Portugal, Malaysia, nearly all citizens and NGOs in Timor-Leste, the international support movement for Timor-Leste, and people of good will from around the world advocate for a unified military force integrated into the UN Mission. This is in addition to 1,608 international police, and is described in this excerpt from the UN Secretary-General's 8 August recommendations to the Security Council (see paragraph 119).

The new mission is stalled because the UN will not send soldiers to TL if there is a separate international military force there. Their experience shows that problems of coordination and responsibility create too much of an added burden, making it impossible to carry out their tasks. Australia has dug in its heels -- and Timor-Leste is forced to endure one more cycle of uncertainty and lack of support because of global politics.

Since you follow events in Timor-Leste, you know that the performance of Australia soldiers in Timor-Leste 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 deterring or preventing violence. Although the situation has improved somewhat in the nearly three months since they got there, it should be much better, and deficiencies in training, attitudes and command are evident almost every day.

Although most Timorese were very relieved and grateful when the Diggers arrived, the good will is wearing thin. More importantly, Timor-Leste's people need and deserve more effective and sensitive support from the international community. The UN is far more capable of providing that, and keeping it in context, than the Australian Defence Force.

The media has given some coverage to this controversy over the past week, but I have seen very little activity by Australian activists, NGOs or citizens urging your government to change its position and listen to the wishes of the RDTL government, the UN, the Timorese people and we who support them from around the world.

The UN's inability to agree has given us a little more time -- one week! This is a plea to colleagues in Australia to use whatever levers and contacts you have. Please pass this letter on.

Thank you.

Charles Scheiner, La'o Hamutuk

On 25 August, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1704 creating a new mission. They allowed Australia to continue leading the multinational force, but instructed the Secretary-General to review this issue within two months, with a view to possible reconsideration of this arrangement.

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