Subject: KY: U.N. halts plan to downsize peacekeeping force in E. Timor

Kyodo News Service September 1, 2000, Friday

U.N. halts plan to downsize peacekeeping force in E. Timor

DILI, East Timor, Sept. 1 Kyodo

The United Nations has suspended a plan to downsize the number of its peacekeepers in East Timor, due to an influx of armed anti-independence militiamen from Indonesian-ruled West Timor into the U.N.-administered territory, a U.N. peacekeeping force (PKF) spokesman said Friday.

'The plan for Sector East has been halted,' Lt. Col. Brynjar Nymo told reporters, referring to the sector covering the four eastern districts of Baucau, Los Palos, Viqueque and Manatutu, where three battalions of some 1,600 peacekeepers from Thailand, the Philippines and South Korea are deployed.

The PKF, headed by Thailand's Lt. Gen. Boonsrang Niumpradit, has some 7,800 peacekeepers from 24 countries deployed throughout East Timor.

Nymo explained that the plan to downsize from 1,800 peacekeepers to 500 in the eastern sector by the end of January next year 'was made before the latest influx of militia four or five weeks ago.'

'You don't start downsizing and take away your own flexibility in a situation that's unclear,' he said.

The spokesman said as many as 150 militiamen have infiltrated the western part of East Timor over the past four to five weeks, during which time two U.N. peacekeepers -- a New Zealander and a Nepalese -- have been shot dead.

'We're not talking a major military threat from these 150. There's harassment and there's a problem, but our main problem is the potential that is still across the border in West Timor and based out of refugee camps. Once we've closed the refugee camps, we can start looking at long-term stability, not before,' he said.

East Timorese leaders have recently suggested that U.N. peacekeepers should stay on for a period of years after East Timor becomes fully independent, likely in the second half of 2001, until the threat from West Timor disappears.

The reduction plan was announced in July, at a time when the PKF was showing increased confidence in East Timor's security situation and there were indications that many of the estimated 120,000 East Timorese still in refugee camps in West Timor might soon be able to return home.

Troop reductions were to begin in the eastern sector and gradually move westward, encompassing PKF headquarters in Dili and the central sector, and finally the western sector along the border and the Oecussi enclave.

Earlier Friday, Sergio Vieira de Mello, the top U.N. administrator in East Timor, and Boonsrang met in Jakarta with Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid in a fresh attempt to convince Jakarta to reign in the militias and ensure conditions for the refugees' return.

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