Subject: RT: UN Weighs Role Beyond 2004; Horta Security Council Statement

see also UN summary

UN Weighs Peacekeepers in East Timor Beyond 2004

UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 20 (Reuters) - East Timor and U.N. officials urged the Security Council on Friday to keep a U.N. peacekeeping force in the fledgling southeast Asian nation for another year despite some council members' reservations.

Diplomats said the 15-nation council would take its time deciding the matter as the current mandate of the U.N. mission in East Timor, Southeast Asia's poorest country, does not expire until May 20.

The council last extended the force mandate in May 2003, for what it thought would be its final year.

But U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a report issued this week, urged that a scaled-back force be kept in place for yet another year to guard against unexpected developments.

East Timor Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta and U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno endorsed Annan's recommendation in Friday's council hearing.

Keeping a force of 310 soldiers in place after May 20 "is essential to reinforce and strengthen what has been achieved to date," Guehenno said. There are now about 1,750 U.N. troops and military observers in the country.

Diplomats said permanent council members the United States and Britain, joined by non-council member Australia -- whose troops rescued East Timor from turmoil in 1999 -- have been pushing for the peacekeeping mission to end as planned in May, and to be replaced by a less costly civilian police mission.

But the United States and Australia appeared to pull their punches on Friday.

While Australia felt a beefed-up police mission was best, "if the U.N. so decides, we would also join a consensus on a peacekeeping force," Australian Ambassador John Dauth said.

U.S. envoy Stuart Holliday said the issue was unresolved.

"The door is by no means closed on a military component for the mission," said a council diplomat after the meeting.

Tiny East Timor became the 191st U.N. member in September 2002 after gaining independence the previous May, capping centuries of colonization by Portugal, 24 years of occupation by Indonesia and three years of U.N. administration.

Australia sent in troops after gangs organized by the Indonesian military went on a rampage following an August 1999 referendum in which the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly to break free of Jakarta. The United Nations then administered the territory until independence.

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