Subject: ADV: Aussie Peacekeepers to stay for as long as needed

The Advertiser

November 30, 2001, Friday

Peacekeepers to stay for as long as needed


AUSTRALIAN peacekeeping troops would remain in East Timor for "as long as there is perceived to be a problem that the East Timorese can't manage", Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer said yesterday.

Meeting in Adelaide yesterday with his East Timorese counterpart, Jose Ramos Horta, Mr Downer said while he would not rush troops home, he was eager for them to return.

However, Dr Ramos Horta said this would be "at least a year or two beyond independence" which is May 20, next year.

"So far the Australian troops have done a remarkable job in East Timor, " he said.

"We are very grateful that they are there and as far as we are concerned we are in no hurry for them to leave."

Dr Ramos Horta said the number of troops would reduce from 8000 at the height of the crisis, to 5000 by independence.

Mr Downer yesterday agreed to offer financial aid to fund East Timor's independence celebrations, as well as protocol and logistical assistance.

Mr Downer said he would encourage and seek out dialogue between East Timor, Australia and Indonesia.

He and Dr Ramos Horta also said they would help establish a West Pacific forum to include Australia, East Timor, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and the Philippines.

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