Subject: Australia to reduce military presence in E. Timor

Australia to reduce military presence in E. Timor

SYDNEY, Dec. 10 (Kyodo) -- Australia announced plans Thursday to reduce its defense force personnel stationed in East Timor from around 650 to 400 soldiers.

Australia and New Zealand have had personnel based in the country since May 2006 when the East Timorese government sought assistance after violent riots in the capital Dili.

Australia heads up the International Stabilization Force in East Timor that was formed to bring ''security, peace and confidence'' to the country.

The ISF will now maintain a presence of 550 personnel, including 155 soldiers from New Zealand's defense force.

Australian Defence Minister John Faulkner said stability in the tiny country meant 250 soldiers would begin returning to Australia from this month through March next year.

''The decision to reduce the number of Australian Defence Force personnel recognizes the ongoing calm security situation in East Timor and the efforts of the government and people of East Timor to uphold this,'' Faulkner said in a statement.

He added the ISF will now concentrate on capacity-building, including working with East Timor's own military forces, as well building a health clinic and working on a clean water project.

East Timor is a tiny half-island country that shares a border with Indonesia.

The former Portuguese colony declared independence Nov. 28, 1975, but it was invaded by the Indonesian military nine days later.

Some 100,000 to 250,000 people are believed to have been killed during the decades that followed.

In 1999, the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia and were finally recognized as an independent country May 20, 2002.

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