Subject: U.S., Belgium to supply arms to East Timor army

U.S., Belgium to supply arms to East Timor army

DILI, June 26 (Reuters) - The United States and Belgium have agreed to sell East Timor weapons, including more than 1,200 assault rifles, for its new defence force, a senior U.N. official said on Tuesday.

The weapons worth $1.6 million would be paid for out of the territory's current annual budget and would not be donated as aid, said the U.N.'s Deputy Special Representative for East Timor, Jean-Christian Cady.

Cady was speaking at the end of a two-day conference on the defence force attended by representatives of 13 countries.

"We (the transitional administration) have taken action to procure weapons for the East Timor Defense Force. These weapons are financed from this year's budget, that is to say, the budget which closes on the 30th of June," he said.

The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) is overseeing the territory's transition to independence, expected within the first few months of 2001.

A senior U.S. official told Reuters Washington had agreed to sell the former Portuguese colonly 1,200 new M-16A2 assault rifles, 75 M-203 assault rifles with combination grenade launchers and 50 .45 calibre hand guns.

Another 75 Minimi light machine guns would be procured from Belgium, said the official, who declined to be identified.

An Australian diplomat said 300 older M-16s on loan to the East Timor Defence Force (ETDF) for training would be returned. However, along with Portugal, Australia would continue to play a major training and support role for the ETDF.

On Tuesday, diplomats gathered at Metinaro just outside Dili to formally open a new Australian-built barracks and training centre for the ETDF worth $2.5 million.

Last week the first group of 247 ETDF soldiers recruited from the ranks of the now demobilised Falintil guerrillas graduated from a Portuguese-supervised basic training course.

UNTAET expects the force to be built up to battalion strength of 600 people by the time the tiny territory gains independence.

At full strength, the ETDF will comprise, 3,000 men and women under arms including a regular force of 1,500.

The impoverished half-island voted in 1999 for independence after more than 20 years under Indonesian rule.


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