Subject: AU: Venom threatens separate mission


Venom threatens separate mission

David Nason, New York correspondent September 04, 2006

THE aggressive anti-Australian tone of East Timor's response to the Becora prison breakout is a sure sign that Canberra will have great difficulty winning an extension when the joint "green helmet-blue helmet" security arrangement is reviewed by the UN Security Council next month.

Under the UN mandate passed by the council 10 days ago, the Australian-led stabilisation force has authority to operate in East Timor separately from the UN's 1600-strong police deployment.

But as a concession to the many opponents of this shared security system, the council ordered UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to review the arrangement and report back within two months.

Significantly, Mr Annan and East Timorese Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta were among those who had argued strongest for the military component of the new mission to be brought under full UN control.

Their many supporters included Portugal, the former colonial ruler of East Timor, China, Brazil and the three other members of the Australian-led stabilisation force - New Zealand, Malaysia and The Philippines.

But with powerful backing from the US, Britain and Japan, Australia won the diplomatic battle and was allowed to continue its independent military role, albeit on a temporary basis pending Mr Annan's review.

At the time, Australia's UN ambassador Robert Hill said while Canberra was pleased its military option had been adopted, Australia's soldiers had to prove to the UN they could deliver on the mission's security demands.

But the prison escape now gives Australia's opponents a compelling argument that says the Diggers are not up to the job and should be replaced by a blue-helmet military force.

The venomous East Timorese criticism of Australia is evidence this process is already under way. Mr Annan made a contribution on Friday when his New York spokesman said the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, was "very concerned about the recent escalation of violence in Dili".

Mr Hill had expressed hope that Australia could win East Timor's support for the shared security arrangement during the two-month trial period.

But Australia is now looking down the barrel of a public humiliation before the Security Council next month if it continues to press for an independent role in East Timor.

Should this happen, many Australians would judge it a grossly unfair postscript, given the speed and professionalism of the nation's response when East Timor was in desperate need of help back in April and May.

But others may well ask why Australia - given the clear opposition of the East Timorese and so many others in the international community - has been so insistent about operating separately from the UN in the first place.

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