Turning Point in East Timor

The New York Times reported yesterday that the Prime Minister of East Timor, Mari Alkatiri, “who has been accused of arming hit squads in recent battles within the country’s security forces” and instructing them “to eliminate opponents of the government and of Mr. Alkatiri’s political party,” has resigned, an action that many see as the turning point in the recent crisis. As the Times points out, it is unclear how long it will take East Timor to fully recover, but it will undoubtedly be accelerated due the presence of the United Nations, which is already on the ground providing vital security and humanitarian assistance.The UN will soon be sending a police contingent to replace the local police force, which has “virtually evaporated,” and may soon send a peacekeeping force to supplement the Australian-led international force. And UN investigators are helping the Timorese Prosecutor-General look into the allegations of wrongdoing against Alkatiri and former Interior Minister Rogerio Lobato, mirroring the efforts of UN investigators in Lebanon who are helping bring to justice those involved in the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In addition, the United Nations announced yesterday that the World Food Program has distributed a second round of rations to over 53,000 displaced Timorians; UNICEF has resumed a much-needed measles vaccination program; and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has delivered 1,800 tents, 2,400 plastic sheets, 17,000 blankets, and 1,400 fuel storage cans. A second shipment is on its way.