Subject: East Timor seeks NZ help to stem army desertions

The Dominion Post (Wellington, New Zealand) Wednesday, April 5, 2006

East Timor seeks NZ help to stem army desertions


EAST TIMOR'S top soldier is in New Zealand looking at how this country can help further with training his troubled forces.

An estimated 600 troops -- more than a third of the fledgling force -- have deserted because of concerns about the way they have been treated. They have since been dismissed.

Defence Force commander Brigadier General Tuar Matan Ruak met Defence Minister Phil Goff in Wellington this week and is holding talks with New Zealand defence staff and visiting bases in Upper Hutt, Waiouru and Auckland.

The general was not available for interviews, but Mr Goff said he was looking at how New Zealand could continue to help build the East Timor Defence Force under a new mutual assistance programme.

New Zealand troops were heavily involved in the Australian-led multi-national military force that helped to secure the country as it gained independence from Indonesia four years ago.

Since the troops were withdrawn, New Zealand has continued to send training staff to East Timor.

New Zealand has four military personnel in East Timor, three helping in small-arms training and a fourth working as a military liaison officer, but Mr Goff said there might be other ways to help.

East Timor's military had no naval capability and that was something they wanted to improve.

The nation had made a lot of progress but still had a huge task converting a guerrilla force into a fully functioning defence force, Mr Goff said.

General Ruak had outlined problems with the desertion and dismissal of many of his troops. "There are high expectations that independence will bring a dramatic improvement in their conditions, but that depends on overall progress in their development," Mr Goff said.

------------------ Joyo Indonesia News Service

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