|Subject: AP: Peacekeeping Force Likely To
Stay In East Timor For 3 Yrs
Associated Press May 30, 2001
Peacekeeping Force Likely To Stay In East Timor For 3 Yrs
SYDNEY (AP)--An Australian-led international peacekeeping force is likely to remain in East Timor for up to three years after the fledgling nation makes its transition to full independence, Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos Horta said Wednesday.
Ramos Horta - who is expected to become the territory's foreign minister after independence is granted next year - said a peacekeeping force would have to remain for some years yet because of instability within the territory and in neighboring West Timor.
Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer have already indicated Australia is prepared to keep troops in East Timor for up to three years, he said.
"Maintaining the peacekeeping forces in East Timor is not only in the interest of East Timor itself, it's in the interest of the donor countries," Ramos Horta told reporters in Sydney.
"If there is a hasty withdrawal from East Timor, it would be very destabilizing emotionally and psychologically for the people of East Timor who have suffered so much violence in the past," he said.
Ramos Horta said if East Timor crumbled, the international community "would have to return there again in full force."
"That would be far more costly and do damage to the credibility of the donor countries," he said.
East Timor voted to break free of Indonesian rule in a U.N.-sponsored referendum in August 1999. The independence ballot triggered a destructive and bloody rampage by militiamen that ended a few weeks later with the arrival of international peacekeepers.
Ramos Horta said East Timor is still battling a number of weaknesses and isn't quite ready for full independence. That should be rectified by March, he said.
Ramos Horta also said he expects independence leader Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao to run for the post of East Timorese president. Gusmao said in April he wouldn't seek the presidency.
"Everybody is telling him he should run and I have detected he is softening up his position and confident that in the end he will run for president," Ramos-Horta said.
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