Subject: ABC: Security Fears Prompt Belo's Call to Extend UN Mandate
Radio Australia January 12, 2004
EAST TIMOR: Security Fears Prompt Extended UN Mandate Calls
By May, the last United Nations troops stationed in East Timor are due to hand over responsibility for security to the local army and police. But while the international community views the transition as the result of a successful peacekeeping operation, some East Timorese, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Bishop Carlos Belo, claim the country still faces major security risks.
Presenter/Interviewer: James Panichi
Speakers: Bishop Carlos Belo; Professor Jim Fox, director of the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the Australian National University.
PANICHI: About 25 per cent of the over 1700 UN peacekeepers in East Timor are members of the Australian Defence Force.
As well as training local police and military, the Australians continue to patrol remote parts of the country, close to the Indonesian border.
Beyond that border are 28 thousand East Timorese living in camps - about 3000 of them are believed to have once belonged to pro-Jakarta militias.
According to Bishop Belo, who is visiting East Timor from Portugal, that means there are still far too many security threats to justify the UN's departure.
BELO: "We still need to maintain the security internally and to maintain the security in the areas in West Timor."
PANICHI: What are your concerns? Are you afraid that pro-Indonesian militia may still be an issue in West Timor?
BELO: "Yes. They are still there. And we have not only militias but there may also be some Indonesian military here internally. Also, there is still competition between the different political parties. So we still need the security."
PANICHI: Bishop Belo says East Timor's new border police patrol may not be up to the task of controlling militias from West Timor.
And he's concerned that political forces within East Timor - rivals of the dominant party Fretilin - could also pose a security risk.
BELO: "There is still one organisation that doesn't accept the present constitution. They'd like to impose the constitution of 1975. So there are still problems here."
PANICHI: Have you spoken to the government of East Timor about your concerns?
BELO: "Already. I've already talked to the people of the United Nations here and also to the government here."
PANICHI: And do they agree with your position?
BELO: "They said they would think [about it]."
PANICHI: Do you think the Australian government is serious when it says it will withdraw the troops?
BELO: "Well, I never hear the Australian government. I would like to hear it."
PANICHI: What would you like it to say?
BELO: "I'd like to hear a firm position, to see if they will withdraw or they will stay."
PANICHI: You obviously hope they will stay on. How much longer do you think the UN troops should remain?
BELO: "One or two years."
PANICHI: Although, the Australian government now appears unlikely to change its plans.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer recently said that while Australia is happy for some police observers to remain in the country, there is "little need for the peacekeeping force to remain."
Australia has already spent 1.5 billion US dollars on peacekeeping efforts in East Timor and is therefore keen to see the country's new defence and police forces take over.
Although, the United Nations could still review plans for a May withdrawal if it's not satisfied that security can be maintained.
Professor Jim Fox is director of the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the Australian National University.
He's in no doubt East Timor requires a UN presence beyond 2004.
FOX: "I think a little bit more time is needed - not necessarily a long time, but certainly a further extension of the UN mission.
"Because were the UN to leave now before the job is done, it would have a serious consequence for the reputation of the US, because it's considered in many circles a great success story for the UN.
"But more than that, I think there is a need in East Timor for that UN presence as a stabilising force."
PANICHI: If it were to withdraw too soon, what would be the worst case scenario. What could happen?
FOX: "Well, one could imagine all sorts of worst case scenarios. At the moment unfortunately there is a real budget deficit in East Timor so they're doing it hard. I think until there is the beginning of some substantial oil revenue, they'll continue to do that.
"So, for that period of time, any assistance that the UN can provide to provide stability is to the good."
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