troops take over from Australians in E.Timor enclave
Jordanian troops take over from Australians in East Timor enclave
OECUSSI, East Timor, Feb 15 (AFP) - The commander of Jordanian troops who began patrolling the Oecussi enclave of East Timor Tuesday said his country's ties to Indonesia will not affect the integrity of their peace keeping mission.
The more than 700 Jordanians have replaced Australian soldiers who exchanged fire with pro-Indonesian militias near the Oecussi border with Indonesian West Timor at least three times last month.
"Jordan has good relations with all the world, not just Indonesia," the battalion commander, Colonel Ahmad Farjat, told journalists .
"We are here to help the Oecussi people and to protect them and to make their lives without fear and suffering."
He was speaking before a ceremony to transfer security responsibility to the UN peace-keeping force from the Australian-led International Force in East Timor (Interfet).
Former Indonesian General Prabowo Subianto moved to Jordan after he was implicated in riots that devastated Jakarta before Indonesian strongman Suharto, his father-in-law, resigned in 1998.
The commander of the UN peace keeping force, Philippine Lieutenant General Jaime de los Santos, said he had confidence in the Jordanian soldiers, who were the only ones willing to serve in the coastal enclave surrounded by Indonesian West Timor.
"It was only Jordan that accepted this responsibility. The Jordanian troops here are professional, committed and dedicated, and they were personally chosen by their king to come here," de los Santos said.
More than 100 East Timorese sheltered from the sun under palm trees along the sea shore to watch the Jordanian soldiers remove their black berets and don blue UN caps.
The departing soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, landed in the East Timorese capital Dili with the first troops who arrived on September 20 to stop a campaign of murder, arson, looting and deportation by pro-Indonesian miltias backed by Indonesia's armed forces.
In mid-November the 3rd battalion moved to Oecussi, one of East Timor's most devastated areas. Virtually every building in the enclave's main town appeared to have been either destroyed or damaged.
UN officials believe the worst massacre of the violence that followed the August 30 vote for independence from Indonesia occured in Oecussi.
More than 50 young men were murdered near the border village of Passabe, UN officials say.
Oecussi residents say the Australians brought them peace and they are sad to see them leave.
"Thankyou very much for helping us," said Leonardo Marquis, 19.
Geregorio Guterres, 20, said if the Jordanians did the right thing, "then we'll give them our trust."
Even after Interfet arrived, militias continued to operate along the Oecussi border and in January Australian patrols exchanged fire at least three times with militia who had crossed into the enclave, Interfet said.
Last week, Indonesian troops arrested the local militia commander, and the UN force chief now says the security risk in the enclave is greatly reduced.
"We've certainly broken the spirit of the militia," said Lieutenant Colonel Peter Singh, commander of the Australian battalion.
But he warned militia incursions may still occur and "that's why we have to keep our security vigilance quite high."
He said the Jordanians would face a logistical challenge operating in the enclave, which is a 40-minute helicopter ride from the rest of East Timor.
Only about 70 Australian soldiers remained in Oecussi Tuesday morning, and all were expected to be gone by the end of the day.
All of East Timor is now under UN peacekeeping force command, except for the western border region, where Interfet will hand over responsibility on Monday.
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