Subject: Timor to call on more regional forces for help

The Canberra Times

Timor to call on more regional forces for help

Ross Peake

Friday, 13 October 2006

Australia and East Timor will encourage regional countries to help the fledging nation rather than call on the United Nations for assistance.

Timorese Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta said in Canberra during a brief visit yesterday that his country had a "fragile and precarious peace".

The Australian-led regional force deployed in his country after the outbreak of violence has worked very effectively.

"Some people would say that only a UN peacekeeping force in the country would help preserve East Timor's sovereignty," he said.

However, the UN was overstretched in other conflicts like Lebanon and Afghanistan, he said.

The Australian-led regional force showed utmost respect for Timor's authority and sovereignty.

"We have agreed with Australia that we will ask additional countries to contribute - Fiji, Singapore, Philippines maybe," he said. <> []

"Each contributing country would have to pick up the bill unlike a peacekeeping force where it is paid for by the UN budget."

Dr Ramos Horta was speaking at the Australian National University after talks at Parliament House with Prime Minister John Howard.

More than 3200 international peacekeepers from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal were deployed to East Timor after the riots in May.

More than 30 people were killed when the government's dismissal of over a third of its armed forces sparked protests that degenerated into battles between rival factions of the military and police and rival street gangs.

International police deployed along with troops last month formally handed over their authority to the UN under a new mission set up by the Security Council in August. A UN inquiry into the riots that crippled Dili could be released on Monday, Dr Ramos Horta said.

The report of the UN Independent Special Commission of Inquiry, which will name people it believes are responsible, was due to be released last week. It is believed its release was delayed because of fears that its publication could spark more violence.

Mr Howard said Australian peacekeepers would stay in Timor at least until elections due in May next year, while indicated the number could be reduced.

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd said Australian troops should not be withdrawn from East Timor before the country's elections next year because of the risk of further unrest.

Dr Ramos Horta said he hoped the elections would be peaceful.

However, a culture of violence hung over his country, showing up as domestic violence and use of guns to settle arguments.

Most of the 150,000 people who fled to refugee camps during this year's riots were still too afraid to return home, he said.

Dr Ramos Horta was reunited with Jim Dunn, a former Australian diplomat who was consul in Portuguese Timor at the time of the Indonesian invasion in 1975.

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