Subject: IPS: Surviving East Timor victors get the spoils

Surviving East Timor victors get the spoils 
By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations is breaking new ground by helping raise an army for East Timor - the soon-to-be-established sovereign state in Southeast Asia.

The UN Deputy Transitional Administrator in East Timor Jean-Christain Cady says 13 countries have so far agreed, under UN supervision, to provide arms and logistical training for the new East Timor Defense Force (ETDF). The 13 member states - Australia, Brazil, Britain, Japan, Malaysia, Mozambique, New Zealand, Philippines, Portugal, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, and the United States - have pledged financial and materiel support to the new armed force. The United Nations is coordinating the creation of the proposed military force.

The bulk of the weapons and assistance will come from two countries: Portugal, East Timor's former colonial power, and Australia, a neighboring country. Portugal has offered two second-hand Albatross patrol craft - expected to be delivered in November - and associated support to form the basis of the maritime wing of the ETDF. The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) - Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar - has indicated its willingness to assist with organizing and training the armed forces.

East Timor's armed resistance movement, which fought for independence against Indonesia for more than 25 years, will become the core of the new defense force. Some 650 members of the Armed Forces for the National Liberation of East Timor - which goes by the Portuguese acronym FALINTIL - will form the new military's first battalion, which will be ready for deployment next year, when the territory proclaims its formal independence.

The EDTF, initially consisting of a light infantry force of 1,500 regulars and 1,500 reservists, will protect a population of about 900,000 East Timorese. According to UN sources, former FALINTIL Commander Taur Matan Ruak will lead the ETDF as commander-in-chief. Until the ETDF is fully operational, the 7,950-strong UN peacekeeping force currently in East Timor will be responsible for the defense and security of the territory.

In a report to the Security Council last month, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that a new Office of Defense Force Development has been established under the aegis of the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET).

A five-year plan for the future development of the ETDF was presented at an international conference in Dili, the East Timor capital, in June. While training, infrastructure and equipment for the ETDF will depend on voluntary contributions from member states, personnel, operating and maintenance costs will be borne by the new government of East Timor.

Addressing the Security Council last month, Sergio Vieira de Mello, head of UNTAET, said the creation of the new state would follow territory-wide, UN-supervised elections scheduled for August 30. A Constituent Assembly will be convened on the basis of the outcome of that ballot and a new transitional government will be put in place just after the August elections.

A territory that was under Portuguese rule for over four centuries, East Timor was annexed by Indonesia in 1975. An August 1999 referendum produced an overwhelming mandate for independence. In October, Indonesia's legislature revoked the annexation, paving the way for the establishment of UNTAET.

In his report, Annan said that a meeting of international donors in Canberra, Australia, in June endorsed a budget of about US$65 million for East Timor for the fiscal year 2001-02. A deficit of about $20 million will have to be financed from donor contributions.

"Of particular concern to donors was the size of the recurrent budget in successive financial years," Annan said. Future expenditures for police and defense forces, along with foreign representation and tertiary education, will raise expenditures to about $100 million in 2004-05.

In early July, Australia and East Timor signed a bilateral treaty to govern offshore oil and gas fields they share in the Timor Gap. The treaty, if implemented, will provide East Timor with more than $3.6 billion in revenues over a 20-year period. These revenues are expected to be East Timor's key sources of income after independence. But the treaty will not come into force until it is approved, signed and ratified by the newly elected government in Dili.

(Inter Press Service)

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