Subject: East Timor may ask foreign troops to stay

East Timor may ask foreign troops to stay

By Terry Friel

DILI, East Timor, Aug 30 (Reuters) - An independent East Timor will ask foreign troops to stay on after the United Nations pulls out if Indonesia does not rein in violent militias, a senior East Timorese official said on Wednesday.

Nobel peace laureate Jose Ramos-Horta said the international community had an obligation to help protect East Timor as long as pro-Jakarta militias based in Indonesian West Timor posed a threat.

There has been an upsurge in militia activity ahead of Wednesday's first anniversary of a U.N.-brokered ballot that saw the eastern half of Timor island vote to split from Indonesia after more than 23 years of often brutal rule.

Pro-Jakarta militias rampaged after the vote, killing hundreds, leaving much of East Timor in ruins and forcing thousands to flee to refugee camps in West Timor.

The congress of the main East Timor pro-independence group, the National Council of Timorese Resistance, voted late on Tuesday to seek a continued foreign military presence after the U.N. withdraws following elections due by the end of 2001.

``So long as we have (the militias) it is (an) obligation of the international community to face the challenge, the threat by keeping in East Timor a number of battalions beyond independence,'' Ramos-Horta said.

The militias, who recently killed two U.N. peacekeepers, operate from refugee camps in West Timor, where Indonesian troops and police have failed to halt their activities.

Ramos-Horta said he had received a copy of a letter from U.S. President Bill Clinton to Indonesian leader Abdurrahman Wahid accusing the Indonesian military of involvement.

``I have a letter from President Clinton addressed to (Wahid) - where President Clinton himself accused former and even active members of Kopassus special forces of continuing to support the militias,'' Ramos-Horta said.

The head of the United Nations transitional authority in East Timor, Sergio Vieira de Mello, told reporters on Tuesday that he expected such a request would be approved if the militias continued to pose a threat.

Australia and New Zealand would most likely provide the bulk of any force, which would be smaller than the almost 8,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping contingent and based largely around the border with West Timor.

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