Subject: AFP: Australia proposes involving other nations in East Timor force

Agence France Presse

November 21, 2006

Australia proposes involving other nations in East Timor force

DILI, Nov 21 2006

Australia has no plans to withdraw its troops from East Timor, and is considering involving other nations in the peacekeeping process, Australian Defence Minster Brendan Nelson said Tuesday.

"We will be staying as long as the government of Timor Leste and the United Nations believe it is important for the forces to stay," Nelson said of the UN-sanctioned force charged with restoring order in restive Timor.

"We are committed to the people of Timor Leste as long as they need us," he said after meeting Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta.

Nelson said that Australia preferred not to have its soldiers deployed in other countries, but that it was very clear that "at the moment, Timor Leste still needs assistance from other countries."

In the talks with Ramos-Horta he discussed ways to develop East Timor's military forces, the security issue in Dili and elsewhere in the country, and security arrangements in the run up to general elections next year.

"I also discussed with the prime minister the possibility of having a small number of other countries in the region joining the Australian and New Zealand and other forces in Timor Leste to provide security," he said.

Nelson said that the security situation in East Timor remained fragile.

"It is improving, but we still have got a long way to go," he said.

Some 3,200 Australian-led regional forces were deployed to the tiny nation in May after violence between security force factions, as well as street gangs, left some 37 people dead over two months.

Their numbers have since been reduced to 1,100, bolstered by the presence of some 1,000 UN police whose forces will eventually be upped to 1,600.

East Timor has rejected an offer of a UN military peacekeeping force to cope with civil unrest in the country, opting instead to rely on the Australian-led regional force.

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