Subject: SMH: We need our own forces: Ramos Horta

Sydney Morning Herald Thursday, June 8, 2000

We need our own forces: Ramos Horta

By MARK DODD in Dili

A senior independence leader in East Timor has given assurances about the political future of the world's newest nation in the wake of turmoil in Fiji and the Solomon Islands.

In an interview with the Herald, Mr Jose Ramos Horta promised that East Timor would become a bastion of democracy.

He said his country would need a small but efficient defence force - but the ultimate guarantee of its security would be good relations with its neighbours, including Indonesia.

East Timor would not go down the same path as Fiji and Solomon Islands, Mr Ramos Horta said. "Australia can rest assured, East Timor will share its common values of democracy and the rule of law."

Mr Ramos Horta is a senior official with the the National Council of Timorese Resistance. The Nobel Laureate is also the territory's international spokesman.

East Timor is administered by the UN but, under pressure to give more responsibility to East Timorese, UN chief Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello is offering a power-sharing deal to oversee the transition to full independence, possibly within two years.

The mayhem that followed August's vote for independence and recent events in Fiji and the Solomons pointed to the need for East Timor to have a small defence force, Mr Ramos Horta said.

"We would like to have a small but credible, highly-trained, efficient and mobile force that can act as a deterrent to any potential enemy.

"But, at the same time we believe more important than an army, we must develop the closest possible relations with countries in the region, including Indonesia, so no-one feels threatened or uncomfortable with us."

Australian assistance to East Timor's security needs could include maritime surveillance, border control, police and customs training, he said.

A team from the London Kings College will arrive in East Timor this month to prepare a report on the most viable type of defence force for the emerging nation.

The UN-chaired National Consultative Council, East Timor's de facto parliament has passed two key pieces of legislation that provide for the holding of war crimes trials resulting from last year's bloody militia violence.

They provide for the organisation of a prosecution service in East Timor and the establishment of two legal departments - one specialising in ordinary crime and the other, serious offences, such as genocide, torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

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