Subject: RT: UN council extends East Timor mission for 12 months

UN council extends East Timor mission for 12 months

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS, February 22 (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council voted on Thursday to keep peacekeepers in East Timor for another 12 months as the Asia-Pacific's newest nation struggles to overcome an east-west divide and gang violence.

The 15-member council unanimously agreed to extend the U.N. mission of more than 1,000 police until Feb. 26, 2008 after it was recommended by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and pleaded for by East Timor's Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta.

The council also authorized an additional 140 police to be sent to the tiny impoverished nation ahead of a presidential poll on April 9 and parliamentary elections due to be held by June. Portugal said last week it would supply extra police.

The council expressed "its concern over the still fragile and volatile security, political, social and humanitarian situation in Timor-Leste" and said the forthcoming elections would be a significant step in strengthening democracy.

The resource-rich nation voted in a bloody 1999 referendum for independence from Indonesia, which annexed its neighbor after Portugal ended colonial rule in 1975. After a period of U.N. administration East Timor became independent in 2002.

But an east-west divide in the impoverished nation of 1 million people erupted into chaos and gang violence in May when 600 mutinous soldiers were sacked. High youth unemployment also plagues the country, where more than 100,000 people are displaced.

Australia, which headed a U.N.-backed intervention force to East Timor in 1999, led a 3,200-strong peacekeeping force back to Dili to combat last year's violence. Canberra still has 800 troops in East Timor, along with 120 New Zealand soldiers.

Australia agreed in January to provide troops to protect the current U.N. mission -- approved by the council on Aug. 25 for six months -- and rapid response capacity for U.N. police.

In an address to the council last week, Ramos-Horta begged members to "stay the course" with East Timor after describing building a state from almost zero as a "Herculean task."

U.N. peacekeepers were first deployed to East Timor in 1999 and officially left the country in May 2005, leaving U.N. advisers to support the development of critical state institutions.

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