UNITED NATIONS, May 20 (UPI) -- The U.N. Security Council Monday welcomed East Timor to the international community of nations by thanking Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the General Assembly, the U.N. mission on the island nation and the East Timorese people for their roles in reaching independence.
The world's newest nation gained its independence at 12:01 a.m., setting off a whirlwind of celebrations among the country's 800,00 citizens and special distinguished guests from around the world, including Annan and former U.S. President Clinton.
More than 120,000 people celebrated at a massive ceremony on the outskirts of the capital, Dili.
"The Security Council takes this opportunity to express its deep appreciation for the efforts of the secretary-general and his special representative (Sergio Vieira de Mello), and notes with satisfaction the role played by the United Nations in restoring peace to East Timor and in building a solid foundation for a democratic, viable and stable East Timor," the council said in a statement formally adopted Monday.
It expressed "strong support for the leadership of East Timor," but reminded that "the people and the democratically elected government of East Timor bear the ultimate responsibility for the establishment and maintenance of a viable state."
The panel of 15 gave a nod to the 189-member General Assembly for implementing the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.
East Timor had been under Portuguese colonial rule until its withdrawal in 1975. Then Indonesia invaded and annexed East Timor in 1976. A 1999 referendum saw the people of East Timor choose independence rather than autonomy under Indonesia. The ballot was marked by bloodshed allegedly fueled by Indonesian army-financed militias.
"The Security Council welcomes the government of East Timor's commitment to develop close and strong relations with Indonesia, and the government of Indonesia's stated readiness to cooperate with East Timor toward building a peaceful, unified and sustainable society in East Timor," the statement read.
However, the panel took pains to point out challenges to security and stability East Timor's government faces in that "shortcomings exist in a number of critical public administration elements" and that a "strong international commitment" was required to counter those shortcomings.
To that end, it expressed confidence the follow-on U.N. Mission of Support in East Timor, to the U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor, "Will help consolidate and strengthen a stable environment."
The council Friday unanimously approved UNMISET to succeed UNTAET Monday.
Just hours after gaining independence Monday, East Timor presented Annan with a resolution requesting membership in the United Nations.
"I will be honored to pass on your request to the Security Council, which I am sure will recommend it unanimously to the General Assembly," the secretary-general said in remarks to the inaugural session of the Parliament, sworn in early Monday morning.
The chief U.N. spokesman, Fred Eckhard, said at headquarters in New York that he thought East Timor, with its request, was "on the fast track" and looked like it would become the world organization's 190th member. Traditionally neutral Switzerland, a long-time participant in many U.N. efforts, also was expected to seek membership by year's end.
Representatives of more than 30 states spoke in a formal council debate Monday before the statement was unanimously approved.
One of those speakers was U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, who noted East Timor was not only the world's newest nation but also the first of the new millennium.
"East Timor's evolution over the past two-and-a-half years, from devastation to democracy, has been truly inspiring," he said. "The success we celebrate today is the product of contributions from many quarters, and by many individuals. I want to commend in particular Australia for its leadership and the key role it played.
"This day also marks a signal success for the United Nations, something that the United States is delighted to recognize at this meeting," Negroponte said, thanking Vieira de Mello and UNTAET, "all the military and civilian police personnel from Australia, Portugal and all the contributing countries who served as part of the International Force in East Timor."
Kamalesh Sharma, the former Ambassador of India to the United Nations, Monday replaced Vieira de Mello as the secretary general's special representative in East Timor.