Subject: AU: Secret missile plan for East Timorese military

The Australian

Secret missile plan for East Timorese military

Mark Dodd

June 08, 2007

EAST Timor is considering the use of revenue from its lucrative oil and gas fields to fund a 3000-strong military, including a navy equipped with missiles.

In a plan at odds with international expectations that the fledgling nation should spend more rebuilding its Third World infrastructure, Timorese defence planners, including Portuguese and Malaysian advisers, have recommended the creation of an army, navy and air force.

The authors of the Force 2020 Report, in a deliberate diplomatic snub, excluded any input by Australian defence experts, despite Canberra's desire for a close mentoring role in East Timor's nascent security sector.

The ambitious report recommends that the tiny half-island nation build a small missile-equipped naval strike force backed by armed helicopters to protect Timor Sea oil and gas interests and deter illegal fishing and smuggling.

The findings are a slap in the face for Australia, which believes Dili's security needs are best served by a small, low-cost light infantry force.

Any military build-up by East Timor is also certain to be frowned on by its former occupier Indonesia.

East Timor deliberately kept Australia and the US out of the loop over its defence plans, despite its heavy reliance on foreign aid.

The country, which won its independence from Indonesia in 2002 after a 1999 referendum, relies heavily on Australian police and military personnel to maintain its internal security and Australian taxpayers will spend about $700 million on aid and security in East Timor this financial year alone.

The concealment of the plan also highlights the deep political divisions in East Timor, where some factions are deeply suspicious of Australia.

Defence experts in Canberra warned that the military plan could bankrupt the country, which is one of the poorest in the world, with about 40 per cent of its population below the poverty line.

"That sort of array of high-end capability would have to be matched with some pretty tight command-and-control arrangements," said Mark Thompson, of the respected Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

"It's not clear a state the size of East Timor will ever develop the critical mass to have the rigorous controls necessary to keep that range of capability usefully employed."

The 141-page report, a copy of which has been obtained by The Australian, is the equivalent of a defence white paper. It has not yet been released in East Timor and is in limited diplomatic circulation.

It sets a 20-year time frame for the military program, which would be bankrolled by oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea, expected to produce billions of dollars in revenue.

"The people who wrote this report made sure the Australians were kept right out of this because they don't trust them," another Western security analyst said.

"But let's assume they (East Timor) have the money to buy all this stuff - they do not have the capability to manage it."

The report strongly endorses the call last year by Jose Ramos Horta, elected President last month, for national conscription to boost defence numbers and create jobs for tens of thousands of unemployed young people.

It is understood Mr Ramos Horta has seen the report.

East Timor's defence force, once 1500-strong, is rebuilding after shattering along ethnic lines following the dismissal last year of 600 personnel who were protesting over discrimination and conditions of service.

The military breakdown triggered widespread rioting, which led to the deployment of an Australian-led peacekeeping force.

A 3000-strong tri-service defence force could be built within 10 years, the report states, foreshadowing national mobilisation in times of crisis.

It calls for a major hardening of existing F-FDTL (East Timor Defence Force) units and proposes a staged procurement of "sniper weapons, anti-armoured-vehicle weapons, heavy machineguns, light patrol vehicles, armoured personnel carriers and assault vehicles with suitable combat support weaponry".

Worryingly for Canberra, it raises doubts about the continuing role played by Australian peacekeepers currently deployed to keep law and order in the troubled country.

"When a sudden conflict emerges in which Timor Leste (East Timor) cannot remain neutral or participate with forces, its national sovereignty and independence is put at risk," the report says.

"This situation will reduce Timor Leste to the condition of a 'colony' to the nation state providing its defence."

The Royal Australian Navy is not welcome in East Timor waters to assist in maritime patrol and security work.

The report recommends the acquisition of a "light naval force" to be progressively equipped with missile-armed corvette-class warships supported by a marine-capable landing force to enforce its economic exclusion zone.

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