Subject: AU: E. Timor Wants Foreign Troops to Stay

The Australian Thursday, December 18, 2003

E. Timor Wants Foreign Troops to Stay

By Patrick Walters, National security editor

East Timor is calling for the United Nations to deploy a 400-strong paramilitary force at least until 2006 to bolster its tiny security forces.

Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta also wants Australian combat troops to remain in the country beyond May next year. The Dili Government is lobbying hard for a two-year extension of the UN mandate, which expires in May 2004, when most of the troops stationed in East Timor will leave.

In addition to an international paramilitary ready-reaction force, East Timor wants the UN to assign 50 military observers to assist with border security, as well as up to 70 civilian advisers for government ministries.

As the UN peacekeeping force winds down its presence in East Timor, the Timorese remain apprehensive about their ability to meet external and internal security challenges.

"We would hope that after May 2004, the UN will maintain a significant deterrent force, including a ready-reaction force," Mr Ramos Horta told The Australian in an interview in Dili.

He said the paramilitary force, which would consist of well-armed and highly mobile police units contributed by individual countries, together with the military observer force, should be a minimum UN security presence.

"We need these forces to ensure the Government's day-to-day function does not collapse and to ensure the stability and security of the country.

"Our police force and defence force are still in need of further training."

He said the UN paramilitary force was needed as back-up to Timorese police in the event of threats to border security.

Mr Ramos Horta said he would like some Australian combat troops to remain beyond May 2004.

"That essentially would be a psychological element and work as a deterrent," he said, acknowledging that no formal request had been made to Canberra by his Government.

The governments in Dili and Canberra agree any additional Australian troop presence later next year should be under the auspices of the UN.

Defence chief Peter Cosgrove said last week that Australian troops would stay in East Timor as long as the Timorese wanted them.

The level of UN involvement in East Timor beyond May 2004 is the subject of intense debate, with a UN team due in Dili next month to prepare final recommendations for Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

In recent weeks the UN has been rapidly winding down its military forces in East Timor, including Australia's contribution. Within weeks, Australia will have fewer than 500 troops stationed there, compared with more than 3000 at the height of its deployment in 2000.

Mr Ramos Horta told The Australian he remained confident about East Timor's border security and optimistic that Indonesia would honour its obligations. He said militia for ces still in West Timor should be resettled off the island.

The UN Security Council is expected to make final decisions on the shape of any UN force in East Timor by next March.

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