Subject: NZ to have 'ongoing presence in ET

The Christchurch Press

March 27, 2002


MILNE Jonathan

The United Nations has won the promise of an ongoing New Zealand military commitment in East Timor after the Sixth Battalion returns home in November.

New Zealander Dennis McNamara, second-in-charge for the UN in East Timor, met Defence Minister Mark Burton in Wellington yesterday.

The 9000 peacekeepers are to be cut down to fewer than 5000 in November after independence, but the UN is seeking a small ongoing New Zealand contribution in key training, advisory and monitoring areas.

The number of New Zealanders being sought after November would be small, and would not be a fighting force, Mr McNamara said.

A spokesman for Defence Minister Mark Burton said there were ongoing discussions between New Zealand, Australia, and the UN about the peacekeeping force's shape after November, and several options had been discussed yesterday. "New Zealand will have some form of ongoing Defence Force presence," he said.

There are currently 562 New Zealanders serving in the Fifth Battalion in East Timor, who will be replaced by a Sixth Battalion of similar strength from May till November.

"They've been very much recognised as an important and very effective part of the peacekeeping," Mr McNamara said.

"They've been very successful in civil- military collaboration. They've established particularly good links with the local communities."

Mr McNamara disputed an allegation this year, made by the UN's former chief of staff in East Timor, Malaysian N. Parameswaran, that he played a key role in creating "a white mission, an Eastern mission with a Western face".

Mr Parameswaran resigned in January, complaining in a letter to UN secretary-general Kofi Annan of poor morale, interference in management, and of Mr McNamara hampering his efforts to bring home refugees.

But Mr McNamara said the UN peacekeeping force was an international one, in which New Zealand and Australia were supported by Brazil, Malaysia, Thailand and others.

"There was no basis for allegations of imbalance. In fact the statements were quite unfounded and unhelpful," he said. He acknowledged a need for more speakers of local languages and better cultural orientation, "but there's always a pressure to deploy the mission quickly".

He said the UN was expecting a peaceful presidential election on April 14, though turnout might be affected because of the rainy season.

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