Subject: East Timor's Falintil fighters to work with UN

Sydney Morning Herald May 11, 2000

Falintil fighters to work with UN

By MARK DODD, Herald Correspondent in DilI

In a groundbreaking decision, East Timor independence fighters will work alongside United Nations peacekeepers as liaison officers, a senior UN military official said yesterday.

UN military spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Brynjar Nymo, confirmed that four senior members of the Falintil independence force would serve on the UN headquarters staff in three military sectors and at central command headquarters in Dili.

The decision is the first formal acknowledgement by the UN that the former guerilla force that waged a bloody 24-year insurgency against the Indonesian army will provide the core of any future East Timorese defence force.

"We cannot be seen to leave East Timor in a total security vacuum," Colonel Nymo said. "They need to be able to start and develop their future security force and Falintil could be the core of this group."

In recent months the pro-independence CNRT (National Council of Timorese Resistance) umbrella group has been pressuring the UN mission here to provide a role for 1,500 Falintil troops cantoned in the mountain town of Aileu south of Dili.

Falintil - under the command of Taur Matan Ruak - is a well-trained and highly disciplined guerilla force, active since 1974 and equipped mostly with small arms captured or bought from the Indonesian military.

Colonel Nymo said the UN administration's chief, Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello, had sought further instructions from UN headquarters in New York to clarify Falintil's military status.

He described the decision to appoint four Falintil officers as liaison officers as "just adopting to the realities of the status of Falintil". Their duties will likely include assistance with communications, but they could also play a key role in helping identify pro-Jakarta militia infiltrators.

Reliable UN military sources said the CNRT now wants a 5,000-strong tri-service defence force instead of the smaller French-style gendarmerie, or paramilitary security force it envisaged before last year's pro-Indonesian militia violence.

The question has been subject of heated debate in the CNRT. Several senior CNRT officials, including Mr Jose Ramos Horta, have been opposed to any type of defence force for East Timor.

Colonel Nymo said that specialists at Kings College, London, would undertake a study on behalf of the UN to report on the best type of defence force for East Timor, after the 8,500-strong UN force is wound down. A military training role for Australia has also been raised. Falintil's commander-in-chief, Mr Xanana Gusmao, is known to have asked the former commander of Australian-led peacekeepers, Major-General Peter Cosgrove, for unspecified military assistance.

The present international peacekeeping force is drawn from 24 nations, with its main combat elements of Australian, New Zealand, Fijian and Irish troops deployed along East Timor's 170-kilometre border with Indonesian West Timor.

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