Subject: SMH: Social unrest could force UN troop cuts in East Timor

Sydney Morning Herald April 25, 2000

Social unrest could force UN troop cuts

By MARK DODD, Herald Correspondent in Dili

The United Nations mission in East Timor is considering reducing its 8,000-strong peacekeeping force because of concerns over costs and possible social problems created by its military presence.

Mr Fabrizio Hochschild, the special assistant to the UN Special Representative in East Timor, said yesterday that a reduced peacekeeping force was likely if security continued to improve.

"Our peacekeeping force is already significantly smaller in terms of numbers than the Interfet force," he said.

The peacekeeping force, with an authorised strength of 9,000, took over in February from the Australian-led International Force in East Timor (Interfet), which at its peak numbered almost 10,000.

"It is a significant burden on the international taxpayer and there are, as many have highlighted, social implications in having such a large number of foreigners in a relatively small country," Mr Hochschild said.

"As the security situation allows, we do envisage a downsizing."

Another factor weighing in favour of reducing peacekeeping- force numbers is growing confidence in security following the signing of a border agreement with Indonesia last month.

The pro-independence political umbrella group, the CNRT, has expressed mixed feelings about the size of the peacekeeping force and its potential to create social problems.

A spate of border incursions last month from Indonesian West Timor caused several senior CNRT officials to query whether the peacekeeping force was large enough.

But one senior CNRT official, who asked not to be named, said yesterday that the real problem was not the size of the peacekeeping force but the size of the UN mission as a whole, and their lavish lifestyles.

"I think it is very obvious that East Timorese are becoming more and more marginalised," the official said. " It is almost as though an elite world has been created by the UN expatriate community."

The UN had failed in its promise to engage East Timorese in the transitional process and this was resulting in growing resentment by local people.

Mass unemployment remained one of the biggest social problems to be addressed, the official said.

As well, East Timorese society was "very conservative" and there were fears about the spread of sexually transmitted diseases by a large foreign population, including peacekeepers.

Lieutenant-Colonel Fergus Bushell, a military spokesman for the UN transitional authority, said there had been "zero problems" between the peacekeeping force and East Timorese.

"There seems to be a misapprehension that all these foreign people are somehow going to corrupt their [East Timorese] culture," he said. Pressure to reduce the size of the force was more likely to be coming from donor countries anxious about the cost of the deployment.

Dili's Nobel laureate, Bishop Carlos Belo, has also raised concerns that a large UN presence in East Timor could lead to unwelcome social problems, including a sex industry.

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