Subject: RT: East Timor urges UN not to pull out peacekeepers

East Timor urges UN not to pull out peacekeepers

25 Aug 2004 05:30:14 GMT

JAKARTA, Aug 25 (Reuters) - East Timor urged the United Nations on Wednesday not to be hasty in withdrawing its peacekeeping forces from the fledgling nation, after the world body said it was considering further cutbacks to the mission.

Nelson Santos, the secretary-general of East Timor's foreign ministry, said the security situation along the country's border with former ruler Indonesia had improved but remained fragile.

"U.N. peacekeeping is a very good deterrent for any further internal or external instability ... If the remaining troops can remain here until next year, then we will be able to further consolidate our security forces," Santos told Reuters by telephone from Dili.

"For the past six months or more nothing crucial has been happening on the border area, but it needs only a small group to destabilise the whole situation. Therefore it is better for us to exercise caution rather than over-optimism," he said.

The Timorese people voted overwhelmingly in an August 1999 referendum to break free from Jakarta, prompting a rampage by gangs with links to elements in the Indonesian military.

More than 1,000 people were killed in violence surrounding the vote, prompting Australia to send troops to restore order. The United Nations then administered the territory until independence in May 2002.

U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Hedi Annabi told the Security Council on Tuesday that his staff would take a look in October at whether changes should be made to the size, composition or tasks of the East Timor mission.

Those comments prompted Australia to state its opposition to any further withdrawal of peacekeepers before mid-2005. The mission's mandate is due to be reviewed by the council in November.

The Security Council ordered an earlier downsizing of the mission in May, reducing it to 604 civilian police, troops and military observers as of July 31 from 3,000 previously.

The U.N. Mission of Support in East Timor, or UNMISET, numbered 11,000 troops and civilians when first authorised.

It had been expected to shut down this year, but East Timor's leaders persuaded U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to keep some troops in place in case of unexpected violence.

Canberra in May pleged about 100 troops for the extended East Timor mission, down from about 5,000 in 1999 when Australia led the multinational peacekeeping operation.

"Our own troops are undergoing training and the training has been delayed because of some logistical problems. We had hoped they would have some time to adjust themselves to a pullout or a phased pullout of the U.N. mission," said Santos.

He said the current presence was not a huge burden for the U.N. and that relations with Jakarta were improving.

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