Subject: AFP: Ramos-Horta defends rejection of UN peacekeeping force

AFP

October 28, 2006. 4:27pm (AEST)

Ramos-Horta defends rejection of UN peacekeeping force

East Timor's Prime Minister, Jose Ramos-Horta, has defended his Government's decision to turn down an offer of a UN military peacekeeping force.

The Government decided to keep Australian and New Zealand forces on instead.

Parliament voted on Friday in favour of a UN peacekeeping force to cope with ongoing civil unrest, but also said it was prepared to consider bilateral and trilateral military arrangements.

Some 3,200 Australian-led regional forces were deployed to East Timor in May after violence between security force factions, and street gangs, left 37 people dead over two months.

Their numbers have since been reduced to 1,100, bolstered by the presence of some 1,000 UN police whose forces will eventually be upped to 1,600.

The UN would have offered just 350 of its forces for the peacekeeping mission.

Dr Ramos-Horta said that the Government, which had also initially preferred to see a UN-led force, informed the UN of its decision to keep on the Australian and New Zealand contingents on October 18.

"We took that decision because we believe it is in the best interests of our nation to maintain the status quo as both forces have been here for a period of time and are now familiar with Timor-Leste and its people," he said.

He says that the Government was aware that UN forces were currently stretched.

Dili is negotiating a trilateral arrangement with the UN and Australia that would provide for a unified and coordinated command sought by parliament, said Dr Ramos-Horta, who was appointed interim premier when his predecessor stepped down after the violence.

"I am absolutely confident that they can and will work in total coordination. I hope this allays any concerns the national parliament may have when it passed the resolution," the Nobel peace laureate said.

Australia has made it clear it wishes to retain control of the peacekeeping force and has said its troops will stay until elections due in May next year.

Sporadic unrest between gangs has continued on Dili's streets, with at least five people apparently killed in clashes the past week.

The announcement comes as the head of East Timor's armed forces, Brigadier General Taur Matan Ruak criticises Australia for refusing to operate under the United Nations' command.

The new Australian commander, Brigadier Mal Rerden says he does not believe there are any valid grievances against his soldiers.

"The Australian forces operating in East Timor have been operating in a completely professional manner from the day they arrived here," he said.

"They have been conducting themselves in a totally impartial and neutral way in terms of the way they have been dealing with the people of Timor-Leste."


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