|Subject: NZPA: E Timorese ask New
Zealanders to stay longer
East Timorese ask New Zealanders to stay longer
New Zealand defence personnel training the fledgling East Timorese defence force in weapons handling have been asked to stay on until the middle of next year.
New Zealand has about 20 defence personnel in East Timor from all three services, the army the navy and the air force. About six have been providing basic weapons training, mostly on military small arms supplied by Australia.
The East Timorese are also being trained in communications with donated equipment.
Defence spokesman Lieutenant Commander Hugh Aitken said the small arms training team was due back in New Zealand in December, but the request for them to stay on was still being considered.
Defence Minister Mark Burton's office confirmed today the East Timorese had asked the New Zealand weapons experts to stay on but a spokeswoman said no decision had yet been made.
New Zealand also has some United Nations military observers and a handful of other military personnel still in East Timor.
Lt Cdr Aitken said the weapons training was limited to basic small arms "so they could carry a weapon safely and use it safely."
Some of the weapons, believed to be American M16 assault rifles, were similar to weapons used in the past by New Zealand defence forces.
Lt Cdr Aitken said part of the training included the philosophy and culture of handling weapons.
The team was based at Metinaro, about 30km east of the East Timorese capital of Dili on the northern coast.
Other members of the New Zealand contingent were still assisting with monitoring security in the border regions between East Timor and Indonesian-controlled West Timor, helping with command and control and the development of the East Timor Defence Forces.
Lt Cdr Aitken said the future of the New Zealand defence forces in East Timor beyond June was up to the Government.
"I can't speak for the Government. At this time the plan is to withdraw all New Zealand personnel by June," he said.
New Zealand first sent armed peacekeeping troops to East Timor late in 1999 after the country voted on independence from Indonesia.
The vote led to a spree of violence and killings by the pro-Indonesia militia opposed to the independence movement.
At the height of the unrest New Zealand had nearly 1000 soldiers in the small island nation.