Dili – The United Nations ended its peacekeeping mission in East Timor on Monday, leaving the country without any direct security assistance for the first time since a spasm of political and ethnic violence in 2006 almost overwhelmed its shaky, post-independence government.
In recent weeks, the last of a force of 1,600 police and military officers from countries around the world have been leaving the country ahead of the formal end of the deployment, which is a significant milestone in the country's journey following its independence from Indonesia in 1999.
The United Nations and other foreign development organizations will remain in the country supporting its development for years to come. It has oil and gas-reserves, but these are not creating the employment opportunities needed for a country of 1.2 million, more than 60 percent of whom are under 18. The education system is not supporting the development of people with the skills needed to change this.
"The East Timorese people and its leaders have shown courage and unswerving resolve to overcome great challenges," said Finn Reske-Nielsen, the head of the mission. "As peacekeepers depart, we look forward to a new phase in this relationship focusing on social and economic development."
The United Nations organized the 1999 referendum that resulted in an overwhelming vote for independence but also violence and destruction by withdrawing Indonesian troops and their militia proxies. The world body directly administered the country until 2002, when it formally became a nation.
A UN security mission was established to help the country's barely existing state and security institutions. That mission ended in 2005. But the violence and political turmoil in 2006, which included an assassination attempt on the president by a former rebel, led to a new peacekeeping presence. Much of the U.N's work has been focused on training the country's own police and army, and security conditions have now improved.
"It is an emotional moment to say goodbye to them and we are hoping that they can assemble with their families after months and years on their mission in East Timor," East Timor Police deputy commissioner Afonso de Jesus said Saturday. "Like it or not, the East Timor national police is ready to assume our responsibility."
President Taur Matan Ruak mentioned the end of the UN mission in his New Year's Eve message to the nation, saying the country now enjoyed peace and stability.