Subject: CT: Aussie Soldiers May Face Longer East Timor Stay

Aussie Soldiers May Face Longer East Timor Stay Lincoln Wright

05/13/2000 Canberra Times

Australia will keep its soldiers in East Timor for another four years if civil unrest or political violence occurs when the United Nations eventually hands the nation over to an independent government. If the contingency plan is activated, the extended Timor operation could cost an extra $3 billion over the next four years and tie up 1500 of Australia's crack soldiers at a time when regional instability is growing. Details of the plan emerged in this week's Budget, on the same day the Timor tax was scrapped.

That tax was supposed to raise about $900 million from high-income earners to fund the East Timor expedition in 2000-01. Australia is the largest contributor to the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor , or Untaet, and currently stations one battalion group (about 1500 troops) there under UN command. But no firm date has yet been set for the withdrawal of the Australian Defence Force battalion - that will depend on how the interim administration goes.

Officials said there was a risk the situation could deteriorate after the UN left and Australian soldiers might have to stay indefinitely to contain an outbreak of violence from militia groups. Moreover, the true cost to Australia of bringing democracy to East Timor has been revealed to be much higher than originally thought. Although Australia funded the Interfet effort last year, the UN still owes Australia money for helping other nations contribute to the pacification.

Since March this year, when Untaet took over, the UN has been paying a proportion of Australia's cost according to its own schedules. For each soldier, the UN pays $US988 a month and the UN has a set schedule for leasing other military items. So far, the UN has not paid Australia anything, sources said.

The invoice for Interfet has been lodged, but not one for Untaet. On present reckoning, the UN owes Australia only 2.4 per cent for the $740 million price tag of launching the Interfet operation last year. Defence sources have revealed that in general terms, the UN will refund only a small proportion of Australia's contribution to Untaet.

If the ADF stays in East Timor until 2004, the UN will contribute just 10 per cent of Australia's total expected bill. That means the UN will provide only $380 million of the $3.8 billion total cost between 1999-2004. Sources said the real problem was that the UN would not refund part of the cost to Australia of raising two extra battalions to supplement its existing four battalions, along with over 500 Royal Australian Air Force personnel who are serving in East Timor .

Of the total $3.8 billion, more than $2 billion will go to establishing the two new battalions. In 1999-2000, the total cost to Australia of the Interfet effort will be $740 million, of which the UN will reimburse only $18 million (2.4 per cent), plus some funding for the months between March and the end of June.

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