Subject: crikey comment: Australia in Timor


29 August 2006


Mark Byrne of the Uniya Jesuit Social Justice Centre, writes: After weeks of haggling in the UN Security Council, the Australian Government appeared to have got its way with the announcement last Friday that the new UN mission for East Timor would not include a military component, which would remain under Australian "green helmet" control. The victory was only temporary, however. The Security Council has requested a review of the security arrangements no later than 25 October, when it will "consider possible adjustments". There are two issues here. One is that the East Timor Government, supported by the UN and most of the other nations involved, stated that it wanted it to be a blue beret force. It is time for Australia to say what it wants for East Timor: a client state humbly grateful for a share of the royalties from Timor Sea oil and gas and subject to our periodic bullying, or an independent nation supported during the early years of independence by a strong and unified UN presence. The other issue is why it was so important to Alexander Downer to insist on an Australian-led force. It's not a logistical issue: the parallel experience after the 1999 referendum was that the Australian-led INTERFET mission gave way to UNTAET in 2000 with no great dramas. Other than national ego, perhaps our government wanted yet again to show its fealty to the US, which refuses to have its troops in UN blue berets anywhere in the world. If so, it would be sending the message that this is more important than respecting the right of the East Timorese people to decide who goes there and the circumstances in which they go.

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