swap hats as UN peacekeeping operation takes command
South China Morning Post
Wednesday, February 2, 2000
Troops swap hats as UN peacekeeping operation takes command
JOANNA JOLLY and AGENCIES in Baucau
A United Nations peacekeeping operation in East Timor started yesterday as international troops swapped hats in a symbolic ceremony.
About 200 Thai, Korean and Filipino troops exchanged military caps for the blue berets worn by UN peacekeepers around the world. The ceremony was held at an airbase in the second city, Baucau, east of the capital Dili.
''Troops of the eastern sector, change to blue berets,'' was the first command of the peacekeeping force chief, Philippine Lieutenant-General Jaime Delos Santos.
The international force, known as Interfet, will complete its withdrawal from East Timor by the end of this month, by which time there will be 8,950 United Nations peacekeeping troops from 23 nations in charge of security in East Timor.
UN peacekeeping troops will be split into three sectors east, central and western East Timor, with an ''area of special responsibility'' in the East Timorese enclave of Oecussi in Indonesian West Timor.
In an earlier ceremony at Baucau, Interfet chief Major-General Peter Cosgrove addressed 450 Thai troops for the last time as their commander, commending their efforts in securing the region when they arrived in late September to scenes of destruction and violence which followed the August 30 ballot.
Later, General Delos Santos defended the UN's choice of Jordanian troops for the enclave, which is surrounded by Indonesian West Timor.
''I see the Jordanian troops as professional and committed and they were the only unit that accepted deployment in the Oecussi area'' where disgruntled militias have been active, he said.
East Timor, struggling to identify itself with either the South Pacific or Southeast Asia, wants the option of joining both the South Pacific Forum and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, independence leader Jose Ramos Horta said yesterday.
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