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UN: Secretary General Hails Multinational Force For East Timor

United Nations, New York, 21 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has hailed the Security Council's action in authorizing a multi-national force for East Timor as "precisely the unity of purpose" he is urging the world body to adopt in the new Millennium.

Annan laid out his goals and vision for the future of the UN in his opening address before the 54th UN General Assembly (UNGA), which got underway Monday in New York. RFE/RL's correspondent reports Annan challenged world leaders and heads of state to think anew, as they grapple with addressing the prospects for human security and intervention in the next century.

He said how the UN responds to the political, human rights and humanitarian crises affecting so much of the world, as well as the means the international community employs, should be revisited. He also urged creative thought about global willingness to act in some areas of conflict, while at the same time limiting action elsewhere.

Annan said the events of the last year are a good starting ground for future reflections. But he suggested that there was perhaps no more urgent consideration than in East Timor, where the first international peacekeeping forces sanctioned by the UN landed Monday. Looking ahead, he stressed that once the conflict is over, it is vitally important the commitment to peace be as strong as was the commitment to unrest.

"Just as our commitment to humanitarian action must be universal if it is to be legitimate, so our commitment to peace can not end with the cessation of hostilities. The aftermath of war requires no less skill, no less sacrifice, no fewer resources in order to forge a lasting peace and avoid a return to violence."

Annan said Kosovo -- and other United Nations missions currently deployed or looming over the horizon -- present the international community with just such a challenge of consistency.

From Angola to Afghanistan to the Balkans, Annan added, there are a great number of people who need more than just words of sympathy from the international community. He said they need a real and sustained commitment to help end their cycles of violence, and launch them on a safe passage to prosperity.

Annan also dismissed critics who have suggested that the UN Charter, with its roots in the aftermath of global inter-state war, is ill-suited to guide in a world of ethnic wars and intra-state violence. He said the Charter is a "living document," whose high principles still define the aspirations of peoples everywhere for lives of peace, dignity and development.

"Nothing in the charter precludes a recognition that there are rights beyond borders. Indeed, its very letter and spirit are affirmation of those fundamental human rights. In short, it is not the deficiencies of the Charter which have brought us to this juncture, but our difficulties in applying its principles to a new era; an era when strictly traditional notions of sovereignty can NO longer do justice to the aspirations of peoples everywhere to attain their fundamental freedoms."

But what is the common interest in applying those fundamental principles? Who shall define and defend them, and under whose authority and with what means? These are the key questions for the future of the international community, as laid out by the UN Secretary General. Annan said the world may be leaving behind a century of unparalleled suffering and violence, but he said it does so on a "hopeful" note. He cited the developing international norm in favor of intervention to protect civilians from wholesale slaughter -- such as in East Timor -- as a welcome evolution.

He said it is testimony to a humanity that cares more, not less, for the suffering in its midst, and a humanity that will do more, not less, to end it.