Subject: AP: Australia backs continued U.N. peacekeeper presence in East Timor

Also ABC - Australia likely to maintain small force in East Timor

Australia backs continued U.N. peacekeeper presence in East Timor

May 4, 2004 4:39am Associated Press WorldStream

SYDNEY, Australia_Australia, the nation that led international troops into East Timor in 1999, wants United Nations peacekeepers to remain there to ensure its security after their mandate runs out later this month.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Tuesday that he agrees with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has suggested keeping a small force of peacekeepers in the world's newest nation, which is also one of the poorest.

"Well, I agree with Kofi Annan," Downer said. "I don't think that we can withdraw all of the troops from East Timor."

Downer said the number of soldiers in East Timor would be slashed, including Australia's contingent in the force. He said no decision had been made on how much smaller the Australian force would be than the current 440 troops.

Last month, Annan said that while East Timor has made considerable progress in building the structures of a nation, such as a judicial system and a police force, it will still need help after the current U.N. mandate runs out on May 20.

"I am convinced that a comparatively modest additional effort can make a crucial difference in broadening the scope and increasing the sustainability of the remarkable achievements that have already been made," Annan wrote in a report last month.

When the people of East Timor voted for independence in 1999, the Indonesian military and its proxy militias launched a bloody rampage in the former province, killing an estimated 1,500 Timorese and forcing 300,000 from their homes.

The United Nations administered the territory for 2 1/2 years, then handed it to the Timorese on May 20, 2002 _ after establishing a new administration, judiciary, police force and army, in addition to overseeing the first democratic elections.

About 3,000 international peacekeepers are now stationed in East Timor to support its fledgling army, along with about 500 U.N. police officers. Another 1,000 U.N. staffers provide technical assistance for government departments, including banking, civil aviation and public works.

In last month's report, Annan said he wants to cut that down to 310 military personnel _ including an infantry company and air support _ and 58 civilian advisers, 157 police advisers and 42 military liaison officers.

Downer said peacekeepers would be dealing mainly with the threat of violence from within the impoverished nation, rather than from pro-Jakarta militias across the border in West Timor, on the other side of the divided island to Australia's north.

"Our assessment ... is that in terms of militia activity, that's died right away," Downer said while on a visit to the northern Australian port of Darwin. "We don't have any concerns at the moment about cross-border activities by militants, for example. Our main concern in East Timor is internal security, is maintenance of law and order."

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ABC Online

Australia likely to maintain small force in East Timor

PM - Tuesday, 4 May , 2004 18:33:17

Reporter: Matt Brown

MARK COLVIN: As East Timor struggles to find its feet and guarantee its own security, the bulk of the international military and police force there is preparing to pull out.

But Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, has indicated that Australia will probably keep a small group of soldiers in East Timor.

The UN mission, involving more than 2,000 troops and police, is being withdrawn when its mandate runs out in a couple of weeks.

UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, says that while the numbers will be cut dramatically, the UN mission should be extended for another year.

And Mr Downer agrees a small force should remain.

But the Minister seems unaware that, where Australian soldiers have been patrolling the border backed by Black Hawk helicopters, the Timorese will be stepping into the breach, patrolling the border on ponies.

Matt Brown reports from Canberra.

MATT BROWN: Many of the Indonesian-backed militiamen who burned much of Dili to the ground when East Timor voted for independence in 1999 are still just across the border in West Timor. But the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, says they’re no longer the threat they once were.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Our assessment is though, that in terms of militia activity that’s died right away. We don’t have any concerns at the moment about cross-border activity by militias, for example.

Our main concern in East Timor is internal security ­ is maintenance of law and order ­ and we certainly hold the view that the focus needs to be on police and supporting the East Timorese police.

MATT BROWN: Many observers agree, but maintain the security on the border of any country is a fundamental ingredient to maintaining internal security too. And developments in East Timor will, for the foreseeable future, be very important to Australia.

Reports out of Jakarta quote Indonesian military officials who are investigating claims the militias still have weapons buried near the border with East Timor. And there’s concern about any other criminal activity that might exploit any holes in border security.

Australian soldiers presently patrol the border region, toting state of the art weapons, backed up by Black Hawk helicopters and sophisticated communications systems. By contrast, some of the Timorese patrolling the border are using ponies. But that hasn’t come to the attention of the Australian Foreign Minister.

REPORTER: So are you confident this plan of police on ponies patrolling border areas is going to be sufficient?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: I’m not sure about police on ponies. I haven’t heard that. (Laughs). I don’t think they’d be using ponies. I think they’d be using vehicles.

Well police and some military. I think there needs to be a combination of the two.

MATT BROWN: Alexander Downer says that, initially, a complete military withdrawal from East Timor was being considered.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: It’s quite a long story here.

I mean, we looked at the idea of withdrawing the military altogether except for a few military liaison personnel, but the East Timorese in particular have felt they’d rather have more military personnel than just liaison officers. And so that’s the way the United Nations is going, that’s the way we’ve been going. We’ve been working very closely with the permanent members particularly at the Security Council and the UN Secretariat.

MATT BROWN: The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, says the UN mission in East Timor should be extended for another year after its mandate runs out on the 20th of this month. But that still means cutting the international force there to less than a quarter of what it is now.

East Timor has become an ongoing military burden for Australia, and the Chief of the Australian Defence Force, General Peter Cosgrove, who was in East Timor over the weekend, said he’s planning to maintain a small Australian presence.

PETER COSGROVE: We expect to be invited to participate in the new peacekeeping force, and we expect to continue to have a very good bilateral military relationship with the FFDTL past the 20th of May. So Australia remains engaged in its support to East Timor beyond the 20th of May.

MATT BROWN: There are around 1,600 soldiers there now, and Kofi Annan says that should be cut to around 300.

General Cosgrove says he expects Australia’s share of the military burden in East Timor to remain as it is now.

PETER COSGROVE: We have in the past maintained about 25 per cent of the peacekeeping force overall, and while this is a matter for the UN, I imagine that our proportion for the next peacekeeping force, the small one, will be about the same percentage.

MATT BROWN: That probably means an Australian military commitment of around 80 troops. While there are around 300 international police in East Timor now, it’s proposed the new force be cut to just 125.

MARK COLVIN: Matt Brown reporting.


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