Subject: AFP: UN team likely to recommend scaled-down mission in E Timor

Also: East Timor calls for extended UN presence

Source: Agence France-Presse (AFP)

Date: 15 Jan 2004

UN team likely to recommend scaled-down mission in East Timor

DILI, East Timor, Jan 15 (AFP) - A UN assessment team expects to recommend a scaled-down UN mission remain in East Timor when its current mandate expires in May, the head of the team said Thursday.

"I think what we're likely to recommend is a smaller, more compact (mission) and with no executive authority," Julian Harston, Asia-Middle East director in the United Nations' Department of Peacekeeping Operations, said in an interview with AFP.

Harston said it was unclear if a follow-up mission would include a military presence.

He is scheduled to return to New York on Friday to deliver a report to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who is to make recommendations to the Security Council next month.

The two-year mandate of the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET) runs out on May 20.

Harston, who arrived in East Timor on Monday, led a seven-person team that met the impoverished nation's President Xanana Gusmao, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, legislators, cabinet ministers and members of local organizations.

"There's a very clear consensus here among the Timorese that there should be a continuation of the mission," Harston said.

UNMISET has been in East Timor since the country's independence to provide administrative, law enforcement and security support for East Timor's government, police and defence force.

An extended UN mission would likely be authorized for a year at most, Harston said.

There are currently 1,750 peacekeepers, 319 police and about 400 government advisers and support staff attached to UNMISET.

East Timor's Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Carlos Belo last week in Lisbon urged the UN not to withdraw all its forces, saying armed militias across the border in Indonesian West Timor still pose a threat.

His call echoed comments in December by Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta who said he would like a UN-backed, 400-strong police force to bolster East Timor's own fledgling security forces which would be inadequate if civil unrest swept the country.

Australian Defence Force chief General Peter Cosgrove said last month his troops should remain in East Timor even if the United Nations pulls out in May. Australia should stay "as long as the East Timorese think they need us," Cosgrove said.

About one-quarter of the UN peacekeepers come from Australia.

East Timor's independence in May, 2002, followed 31 months of stewardship under an earlier UN mission which followed a bloody 1999 vote for independence from Indonesia, which invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975.

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East Timor calls for extended UN presence

DILI, East Timor (AP) - East Timor called on the United Nations Monday to extend its mandate in the country as the leader of a U.N. team arrived to assess whether the tiny nation was strong enough to go it alone.

The United Nations has been helping East Timor since its people voted for independence from Indonesian rule in 1999. On May 20, the U.N. mandate expires and most of its staff, along with hundreds of foreign peacekeepers, are scheduled to leave.

"Certainly we still need a U.N. presence after May 20,'' said government spokesman Gregorio de Sousa.

Last month, Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta told The Associated Press that the country would need help strengthening its defense forces so the government could provide stability and security.

On Monday, the country's influential Roman Catholic Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo said international troops were still needed.

"We need a small U.N. peacekeepers platoon ... to safeguard our border from former militia,'' said Belo, who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize along with Ramos-Horta for his nonviolent resistance to the Indonesian occupation.

Pro-Jakarta militias backed by Indonesian troops devastated much of East Timor and killed more than 1,000 people after its August 1999 vote for independence.

The fighters fled to the Indonesian-held western part of the island after the ballot.

They were blamed for a series of violent cross border raids last year.

However, the country has been largely peaceful since gaining full independence in May 2001 following more than four centuries of Portuguese colonial rule and 27 years of often brutal Indonesian occupation.

The U.N. team will prepare a report on whether to extend the world body's mandate after May and, if so, what form it should take, said U.N. spokeswoman Marcia Poole.

"They are looking across the board and will recommend to the security council,'' she said.

The head of the team, Julian Harston, declined to comment to reporters as he arrived at Dili International airport on Monday.

Despite having considerable oil and gas deposits, East Timor is likely to be dependent on foreign aid for several years to come.

Most of its 800,000 people live in poverty.

It also has a severe shortage of civil servants, many of whom fled to Indonesia after the independence vote. - AP


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