Subject: AFP: ET asks UN to extend mandate, Australia says it will stay

AFP East Timor asks UN to extend mandate, Australia says it will stay

Wed Dec 17,10:18 PM ET

SYDNEY, (AFP) - East Timor has said it wanted the United Nations to stay in the fledgling nation for another two years, as Australia pledged to leave its troops there for as long as necessary.

East Timorese Consul-General Abel Guterres said Dili wanted the United Nations to extend its mandate beyond May 2004 to help consolidate infrastructure and reassure the community about security.

"Of course we would like them to stay for another two years," Gueterres told AFP. "It's to do with training our police and defence forces properly, getting the public service operating properly.

"Also, people are nervous about security, which is natural when they have been traumatised for 25 years. The UN presence offers them some reassurance."

East Timorese Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta said he would like a UN-backed, 400-strong police force to bolster East Timor's own fledgling security forces, which would be inadequate if civil unrest swept the country.

"We are talking about only a few hundred police, we're talking only about 50 to 70 civilian advisers, we're not talking about 4,000 or 7,000 troops as it was in 1999 and 2000," he told ABC radio.

Prime Minister John Howard said Australia would stay until East Timor was considered stable.

"We don't intend to leave until we are confident that we are leaving behind a stable, united country," Howard told reporters.

He said Australia had not yet received any formal request from Dili to extend the troop deployment.

Australia has about 440 troops in East Timor as part of the UN peacekeeping force, representing about a quarter of its total strength.

East Timor won independence from 24 years of Indonesian rule in May last year after a long and bloody struggle.

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