Subject: RT: East Timor Wants United Nations to Retain Presence

East Timor Wants United Nations to Retain Presence
Wednesday, December 10, 2003 2:05 a.m. ET

By Michelle Nichols

CANBERRA (Reuters) - East Timor appealed to the United Nations Wednesday not to desert the world's newest nation by diverting its assistance to flashpoints like Iraq and Afghanistan.

U.N. peacekeepers have helped run the tiny country, off the northern coast of Australia, since East Timor voted in 1999 for independence from Indonesia and a bloody backlash killed about 1,000 people.

The 1,800-strong peacekeeping force still in East Timor is due to withdraw in May next year, but Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta said Wednesday the United Nations needed to maintain a smaller presence in the country.

"The U.N. must stay, engage in East Timor on a smaller scale but with a robust, credible presence to ensure that the achievements of the past two or three years will not unravel with a hasty retreat," he told the National Press Club in Canberra.

He said the nation of 700,000 people, granted independence in May 2002, wanted the United Nations to maintain a "rapid action" police force of between 400 and 1,000 to back up East Timor's police, and civilian advisors to support the government.

Australia, which led the U.N. peacekeeping force in East Timor, has committed A$40 million ($30 million) to help its neighbor develop and train police over the next four years.

"Nation-building cannot be undertaken with shortcut methods. It cannot be based on the Security Council wanting to save money from East Timor and then diverting it to Iraq or Afghanistan or the Middle East," Ramos-Horta said.

East Timor is one of the world's poorest nations and currently receives $150 million a year in aid from countries led by Australia, Japan and the United States, despite having billions of dollars worth of oil and gas reserves on its doorstep.

Royalties from the resource-rich Timor Sea are likely to remove East Timor's need for international aid, but first a maritime border must be agreed with Australia. Official negotiations between the two nations are due to begin in April.

Australia and East Timor have a temporary revenue-sharing treaty in place for some oil fields until a maritime boundary is agreed. That treaty splits revenue 90:10 in favor of East Timor from a shared 24,000 square mile region. ($1=A$1.35)

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