Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Dili/Brussels, 15 December 2010: The size of the policing contingent of the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) should be sharply reduced to prepare for the peace operation’s eventual end and encourage the country to assume full responsibility for ensuring its own security and future stability.

Timor-Leste: Time for the UN to Step Back,* the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines recent developments in police reform and the broader justice and security sectors and recommends the UN reduce the size of its policing contingent. Since 2008, the Timorese have shown themselves determined to handle internal threats without the support of the UN, despite playing host to a UN police contingent larger than anywhere in the world apart from Darfur and Haiti. A reduction would align the UN mission’s size with reality, as the local force has long answered to its own command rather than UN police 2E

“The government has for years ignored UN advice on undertaking difficult reforms in the security sector and pursuing formal justice for crimes”, says Cillian Nolan, Crisis Group South East Asia Analyst. “Real risks to stability remain, but these will be best addressed by the country’s political leaders rather than a continued international police presence”.

In 2006, UN police made an important contribution to the immediate post-crisis stabilisation. But they were never equipped to conduct the highly political and long-term task of police reform and more than four years into the mission there is still no agreed upon plan. Nevertheless, the district-by-district process of handing back responsibility from the UN to the Timorese police has progressed steadily.

As talk of “right-sizing” the peacekeeping mission begins with an eye towards its withdrawal by December 2012, it is clear that such a large mission is not tailored to the country’s needs. UNMIT should quickly hand over policing responsibility in remaining districts and units, and reduce its police contingent by at least half.

The government and the UN need to agree a limited plan for future cooperation in training the local police and clarify the likely terms of any handover of UN mission assets. A sharp reduction in the size of the UN police will bring to light remaining weaknesses in the Timorese force that may be masked by such a large international presence. The government and the UN should support an independent assessment of the needs and capacity of Timor-Leste’s police, which could serve as a tool for planning future domestic and bilateral training.

“The UN will leave behind much unfinished work in building the capacity of Timor-Leste’s police, but the violence of 2006 was caused more by a failure to address political issues than it was by technical weakness in the country’s security services”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group’s South East Asia Project Director. “The best way to maintain stability through and beyond the 2012 elections would be a strong commitment to peaceful political competition by Timor-Leste’s leaders”.

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