Subject: Reduced Timor force must watch for militias - U.N.

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Reduced Timor force must watch for militias - U.N.

By Irwin Arieff

UNITED NATIONS, July 25 (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Wednesday it would reduce its presence in East Timor after the tiny territory gained its independence, expected early in 2002, but had to stay on alert against militias in neighboring West Timor as long as Indonesia failed to disband them.

"There is concern that some militia elements have adopted a strategy of lying low until independence in the belief that the international military presence will be removed from East Timor," Secretary-General Kofi Annan cautioned in a report to the 15-nation U.N. Security Council.

The council, which asked Annan in January to weigh whether the full complement of U.N. troops should remain in East Timor next year, was due to debate the report on Monday.

While the Indonesian armed forces have cut down on the militias' weaponry, the groups "retain easy access to caches of modern weaponry for operations, including hand grenades, semiautomatic and fully automatic small arms," Annan said.

"Hard-line elements capable of operational and tactical leadership also remain able to operate from West Timor," he said.

The U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor, known as UNTAET, totaled some 7,900 troops, 1,400 police officers and a little over 1,000 civilian staff members in mid-June.

While East Timor would require substantial international support even after its first democratic elections, set for Aug. 30, "it is clear that there will be a substantial reduction in the overall (U.N.) presence," Annan said.

But he left the details for a report due in October.


Asian diplomats are watching the matter closely, fearful that Western nations, including France and the United States, will press for the mission to be shifted to a voluntary funding basis after independence. The mission is now funded from dues paid by the United Nations' 189 member nations.

Elections are due to take place on the second anniversary of a 1999 vote in which the East Timorese overwhelmingly chose to split from Indonesia after 23 years of often brutal rule.

After that vote, pro-Jakarta militias killed thousands and forced many more into Indonesia's West Timor.

While some of these militia groups have laid down their arms, others remain active, including some that operate inside West Timorese refugee camps.

Human rights groups have urged Indonesia's new president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, chosen by parliament on Tuesday, to crack down on the militias after taking power.

Campaigning for East Timor's 88-seat Constituent Assembly began on July 15. Sixteen political parties, seven of them established in the last year, will be competing for seats in the body, which will draft a constitution for the nation-to-be.

The assembly will also establish a parliament and prepare the way for a presidential election and independence.

Annan said it would be necessary to keep a small team of civilian professionals in various fields in East Timor for up to two years after independence, so they could continue training East Timor's new civil servants to run their country.

The U.N. civilian police force, while reduced, should also maintain "a substantial strength" to carry on the process of training new East Timorese officers, he said.

Peacekeeping troops and military observer units should remain at current strength in the border areas because of the continued threat from militia groups but could be reduced in East Timor's eastern and central sectors, Annan said.

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