McKinnon on East Timor

  • Don McKinnon
Foreign Affairs and Trade

"Voting in East Timor's historic ballot has gone much more smoothly than we had dared to hope," the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Rt Hon Don McKinnon commented today.

"Thanks to the excellent work of the United Nations and the presence of observers from many countries, the people of East Timor have been able to vote on their future in an orderly way." Mr McKinnon expressed dismay at the killing of an East Timorese worker for the UN in the town of Ermera, but noted that this appeared to be the only major incident on ballot day. "The fact that more than ninety percent of eligible voters were able to cast their ballots is remarkable, when one considers the displacement of people from their homes, the violence and the threats which had been a feature of life in the territory during the preceding weeks and months."

Mr McKinnon noted that New Zealand observers were stationed in several places where significant numbers of East Timorese were voting.

"I would like to thank the five New Zealand MPs in East Timor who travelled from the southwest to the north of the island on voting day to observe the process in an as many towns as possible. Diplomatic staff in Jakarta, New York and Sydney observed the voting there. All have reported an orderly process, with a high turn-out and an enthusiasm among the voters to be part of this historic event. There are still risks ahead, and it will be important for the Indonesian authorities to be vigilant about security, especially when the result is announced in a few days' time."

"There are also urgent social and economic needs in East Timor that must be tackled, irrespective of the outcome of the poll," added the Minister. "If instability continues, there will be a large number of people needing basic assistance, particularly food and medical support. New Zealand has supported a UNICEF programme focusing on the health and food needs of mothers and children. We can continue that sort of assistance."

"Our strong hope is that with greater stability and security in East Timor we will be able to return our attention to longer term development and reconstruction activities."

The Minister noted that New Zealand was well placed to make a valuable contribution in this area. Through the Embassy in Jakarta the Government has been working with a variety of local organisations in East Timor for some years, providing support for education, health, water, agriculture and fishing projects. Since 1991, 34 East Timorese students had been funded for study at New Zealand universities. Since receiving New Zealand funding to develop smallholder coffee production in East Timor in 1996, a New Zealand firm had continued that work in what had the potential to become a major industry for East Timor.

"We have a strong network of friends and contacts in East Timor with whom we will continue to work," said Mr McKinnon. "There are funds available in this year's NZODA allocation to boost our development assistance to East Timor if conditions on the ground allow. The Government will be working alongside NGOs and other donor agencies to offer a practical and coordinated response to the needs in East Timor."