Subject: LUSA: Portugal Negotiating to Take Command of Peacekeeping Force

11 Jan 02 12:50 East Timor: Portugal Negotiating to Take Command of Peacekeeping Force

Lisbon is negotiating with the United Nations over the possibility of taking over command of the UN peacekeeping force in East Timor, it was announced Friday by Portuguese Defense Minister Rui Pena.

"We can really hold this ambition which is justified by us being the country contributing the second largest number of personnel to this peace force. But this is a very complex negotiation and we are taking the first steps", Pena explained to Lusa in Dili at the beginning of a three-day visit to the southeast Asian territory.

Rui Pena was speaking after a meeting with the commander of the East Timor Defense Force (FDTL), Brig. Gen. Taur Matan Ruak. The Portuguese minister said that existing relations between the armed forces of the two countries were another factor in favor of Lisbon assuming command of the force. He also referred to the "empathy" that had been created between Portuguese peacekeepers and the Timorese.

The FDTL commander, for his part, told Lusa that Portugal`s heading of a UN force would be a "very positive" decision.

"All this is now being discussed, but for me, if it happens it is advantageous for us, facilitating the relationship and contact", said the Brigadier General.

Rui Pena, together with UN chief administrator Sergio Vieira de Melo, will also attend Saturday`s formal delivery of two patrol launches, donated by Portugal to the FDTL.

The naval section of the defense force, comprising 50 personnel, will be inaugurated at the same time. Portugal has been responsible for the training of this unit, which will be completed by May and at a total cost to Lisbon of about euros 2.5 million.

CJB -Lusa-

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