Subject: AFP/RT: E Timor asks for Australian troops to stay on in 2008

Also RT: Troops to stay in East Timor - Australian PM


East Timor asks for Australian troops to stay on in 2008

Published: Thursday July 26, 2007

<>East Timor's President Jose Ramos-Horta on Thursday asked visiting Australian Prime Minister John Howard to keep Australian peacekeepers in the young nation until the end of 2008.

"I told the prime minister that I want to see the ISF (International Stabilisation Force) here at least until the end of 2008 because we've just started to reorganise East Timor's police and defence force," Horta said.

"They've just started to modernise so it will be difficult for this country to take care of its security affairs alone," he told reporters after half-hour talks with Howard at the presidential palace in the seaside capital of Dili.

Howard made a lightning day-long visit to East Timor during which he also met with Australian troops, who have been here since May last year when street violence erupted.

The unrest stoked by factions in the military and police left 37 people dead and forced some 155,000 people from their homes. At Dili's request, thousands of international peacekeepers, headed by the Australian contingent, were dispatched to restore calm.

About 1,100 Australian troops remain on duty in East Timor.

Parliamentary <>elections last month were supposed to open a new chapter in the young nation's democracy. But while they were peaceful and the turnout was high, no party won the absolute majority required to govern alone and parties have been bickering over how to form a government.

Ramos-Horta, a Nobel peace prize winner elected just ahead of the parliamentary polls, has the constitutional authority to decide the composition of the new government and is pushing for a national unity arrangement.

He has given the parties until July 30, when parliament holds its first session, to decide on an arrangement.

The oil and gas-rich nation -- which is one of the world's poorest countries -- faces huge social and economic challenges. Some 100,000 East Timorese are estimated to remain in refugee camps and the UN launched an appeal for millions of dollars in urgent humanitarian aid in Dili on Wednesday.

Horta said Howard would not immediately give a commitment on whether the troops would stay on.

"They have decided that they will be here until the end of 2007. For 2008, they are going to review and evaluate the situation in Timor-Leste" before deciding, he said, referring to East Timor by its formal name.

But Howard also said the troops were in East Timor at Dili's request and would stay "for the period of time that you request," Horta cited him as saying.

Howard told reporters that East Timor had "a special place in the hearts of many Australians" and that Australia would not abandon the nation while it was needed.

The two leaders also discussed Australian scholarships for East Timorese students, Horta said.

"He (Howard) did not close the door on this idea and his officials will come here in a short time to negotiate with the Timorese government to discuss a more concrete agreement," he added.

Howard also met with acting prime minister Estanislau da Silva for talks on security and defence before boarding a plane back to Australia.

Da Silva said the Australian leader told him a government was needed quickly so that the nation could get on with development work.

The acting premier is a member of the former ruling party, Fretilin, which won 21 seats in the 65-seat parliament.

Trailing in second place was a new movement set up by independence hero Xanana Gusmao, which has allied with three smaller parties and wants to form a coalition government with 37 seats in parliament.


Troops to stay in East Timor - Australian PM

26 Jul 2007 07:24:33 GMT

Source: Reuters

By Tito Belo

DILI, July 26 (Reuters) - Australian troops will stay in East Timor as long as they are needed, Prime Minister John Howard said on Thursday, pledging Canberra will not turn its back on its tiny neighbour.

Australia has about 1,100 troops and police in East Timor to help maintain peace and order after 37 people died in a wave of violence last year that drove 150,000 from their homes.

"We will stay here as long as we are asked to stay," Howard said in East Timor after talks with President Jose Ramos-Horta.

But separately, Howard told Sky television: "Although we are not setting any dates, we equally are saying to the people of East Timor that our commitment is not indefinite, it cannot be open ended."

Howard told reporters that East Timor had "a special place in the hearts of many Australians".

Ramos-Horta, who became president after a run-off vote in May, said he had repeated an appeal for Australian and New Zealand troops to stay until the end of 2008.

He said even though the Australian and New Zealand forces were not under U.N. command, they had served East Timor and the United Nations very well.

"A few months ago there was a lot of criticism about this arrangement. Well, today in New York and elsewhere they are all very pleased with our effective arrangements," he said.

There are about 1,500 U.N. police in the impoverished country of one million people and violence, often between rival gangs of youths, flares regularly.

Howard's visit came as East Timorese political parties are wrangling over the make-up of a new government after last month's legislative elections.

Howard declined to comment on East Timor's political situation.

"We respect the sovereignty of East Timor and we do not intend to abuse in any way our position by giving public advice to the leadership of this country," he said.

But he told Sky television that he discussed the political situation with Ramos-Horta.

"We are very interested in and very supportive of a bright future for East Timor. We don't want the challenges that the new government faces to be underestimated."

No party won more than half the vote in East Timor's June 30 parliamentary elections.

Ramos-Horta said this month the ruling Fretilin party and an alliance led by ex-president Xanana Gusmao had agreed to form an all inclusive government, seen as crucial to heal deep divisions five years after independence from Indonesia.

But he also said he would have to step in to decide on a new government if parties could not reach an agreement.

The new parliament is due to be inaugurated on July 30. (Additional reporting by James Grubel in Canberra)

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