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East Timor tells UN to get out

ABC News - May 20, 2011

Sara Everingham and staff – The East Timorese prime minister has lashed out at the United Nations mission in East Timor, saying it should leave the country.

In a fiery response to a UN-leaked document accusing him of being an obstacle to democracy, Xanana Gusmao proposed the UN mission in East Timor be wound up and its staff be sent to the Middle East to support democracy there.

The United Nations has distanced itself from the document and says its relationship with East Timor's government is strong, but it is not the first time the government and the UN have been at odds in recent months.

The document, published by an East Timorese newspaper, was written by an employee of the UN mission and part of a presentation at a UN meeting in January this year.

During a speech in Dili this week, Mr Gusmao vigorously defended his record of fostering democracy in East Timor.

President Jose Ramos-Horta has leapt to the prime minister's defence, calling the document pseudo-analysis. Dr Ramos-Horta says many UN staff in East Timor do not speak the local language and rarely mix with East Timorese.

The government accused the UN of producing a report based on out-dated data. The chief communications officer with the UN peacekeeping mission, Sandra McGuire, says the leaked UN document does not reflect the views of the mission.

The row comes just months after East Timor's government criticised a crucial UN report on progress in the country.

Mr Gusmao also has fired a broadside at aid-donating countries like Australia, saying the billions of donated dollars have failed to produce any physical development and have instead created even more poverty.

Michael Leach, an associate professor in politics at Swinburne University, says the attack is another sign East Timor is keen to stand on its own two feet.

"The government has taken the view that – and it has expressed it at various times – that while they appreciate the international assistance that has been going on since independence, that perhaps there hasn't been as much to show for that assistance as some might think over time," he said. "They certainly are looking forward to taking full control... They are a sovereign nation."

Today East Timor marks nine years since independence from Indonesia. The United Nations is planning to withdraw from East Timor by the end of next year but before that, it will help oversee elections in the country.

Associate Professor Leach says these latest developments will not help, but believes all parties will be able to work together to ensure smooth elections. "I suspect that these issues will be resolved but certainly it is a high point in the tension that we've seen in the last week," he said.