Subject: ST: Retired S'pore General to T-L

The Straits Times

November 21, 2006 Tuesday

Retired S'pore army officer picked for UN post in Timor Leste; Tasked to restore peace in run-up to elections next year


BRIGADIER-GENERAL (Retired) Eric Tan Huck Gim has enforced peace in Timor Leste before, and he intends to do so again.

When the retired Singapore army officer left the young country in August 2003 after serving for a year as commander of United Nations peacekeeping troops, there was a reign of peace - but now rioting is rife and gang wars infest its seaside capital, Dili.

But Mr Tan is back: He arrived in Dili on Nov 11, four days before the UN announced that he will be the Deputy Special Representative for the Secretary-General for Security Sector and Rule of Law for a year.

Mr Finn Reske-Nielsen, the Acting Special Representative for the UN Secretary-General in Timor Leste, said: 'It's a demanding job, but I am confident Mr Tan, with his leadership qualities and his excellent professional qualifications, will do a splendid job.'

Speaking to The Straits Times, Mr Tan, 51, said his immediate goal is to 'quickly restore and maintain law and order' in the run-up to presidential and parliamentary elections in April or May next year.

More than 37 people have died in riots in Timor Leste over the past six months, and 155,000 Timorese, or 15 per cent of the population, have been driven from their homes. The violence was sparked off in April when 600 striking soldiers - one-third of the armed forces - were dismissed.

Some 1,000 UN police officers from 21 nations are now on duty in Timor Leste, including 21 Singapore Police Force officers who will serve with the UN for 12 months.

From August 2002 to August 2003, the then BG Tan commanded some 3,200 armed UN peacekeepers and 100 unarmed UN military observers sent from 26 countries to Timor Leste.

The troops were tasked with protecting the Timorese against anti-independence militiamen after the country's separation from Indonesia in May 2002.

To clinch the job, Mr Tan went to UN headquarters in New York for an interview at the end of September. Two weeks later, he was told he had the job.

His UN work comes after a 30-year career in the Singapore army, which he joined in 1975 with just A levels. Trained as a artillery officer, Mr Tan rose to become chief artillery officer in 1997 and commanded the 9th Singapore Division from 2000 to 2002.

He thanked his wife, Cynthia, and three teenage daughters - 17-year-old twins Gabrielle and Michelle, and Danielle, 14 - for supporting his work for the UN.

'I am especially grateful to my young daughters for their courageous understanding, and for recognising that my absence from the family has the potential to help the one million people in Timor Leste,' he said.

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