Subject: ABC: Downer on Timor peacekeeping force under review

ABC Online

AM - UN East Timor peacekeeping force under review

[This is the print version of story]

AM - Saturday, 21 February , 2004 08:20:07

Reporter: Graeme Dobell

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Well closer to home now, and East Timor and Australia are at the United Nations arguing their differences over the type of force to be used by the UN.

East Timor wants to keep 300 soldiers for peacekeeping for a further 12 months after the current UN mandate ends in May.

But Australia has entered the debate in New York saying all the soldiers should withdraw and the UN force should then be based only on the police.

From Canberra, Graeme Dobell reports.

GRAEME DOBELL: The UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called for a one-year extension of the East Timor mandate beyond May. And the UN chief has sided with East Timor in arguing for a continuing military role, cutting the peacekeeping force though from 1,700 troops to about 300.

But Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says it's time to move from a robust military approach in Timor to one based solely on police.

Mr Downer says what East Timor needs is help in dealing with internal law and order problems.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Our basic view is that the security situation in East Timor at on one level okay, that is, that we don't believe that our armed militia are going to come across the border and attack the East Timorese and we don't believe of course that the Indonesians are going to do that. So that is what you need a peacekeeping force for, that's why you need a peace keeping force.

What we do think is a problem in East Timor is internal security, that this is a law and order issue and that lends itself much more to a police presence and a bit more than that, a formed police unit perhaps of some kind, armed police provided by the United Nations as a back up for what the East Timorese are able to do.

We think frankly that that's the priority.

GRAEME DOBELL: Do you discount then the UN Secretary-General's report which talks about continued fears of armed gangs and criminal elements in West Timor and the possibility that these could be used to destabilise East Timor.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well it's a question of degree. I don't think it's people in West Timor, no, I don't think people in West Timor are going to come pouring across the border and destabilise East Timor. I think the situation is that the people who are coming across the border now from West Timor into East Timor in a criminal sort of a way are smugglers, they're not people who are politically motivated.

Now this is something we've looked at very closely. We have done a very careful examination of movements across the border and that would seem to be what's happening and we've explained that to the United Nations.

I think on the other hand the United Nations has been lobbied fairly strongly and maybe one would say understandably by the East Timorese to keep some peacekeeping force there for another year just as a security blanket for East Timor. So they I think they've probably been a bit influenced by that.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: That's the Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, ending that report from Graeme Dobell.

Support ETAN, make a secure financial contribution at

Back to February menu
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu