Subject: Asahi: Self-Defense Force Ends Mission in ET

SDF in East Timor to end peacekeeping mission By TAKESHI FUJITANI, The Asahi Shimbun

DILI, East Timor-About 400 Ground Self-Defense Force troops are preparing to leave East Timor and end Japan's mission in the newly independent nation, SDF officials said.

The group has been on a United Nations-led peacekeeping mission since last October.

The troops, the last of four GSDF engineering contingents sent since March 2002, have played a key role in repairing the country's infrastructure after decades of struggle for independence.

Their mission comes to a close as the U.N. Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET), which has overseen the nation-building efforts, scaled down its activities Thursday-the second anniversary of the country's independence from Indonesia.

Over the past two years, Japanese forces have been responsible mainly for the repair and maintenance of trunk roads to ensure U.N. peacekeeping forces' supply and transport routes were kept open.

The Japanese troops have worked on 115 sections of the road network, including bridges. They also helped maintain water supplies and repaired and rebuilt hospitals and other U.N. facilities.

East Timor officials say they are highly appreciative of the troops' efforts. Ovidio de Jesus Amaral, minister of transportation, communications and public works, said their work had bought ``immeasurable benefits.'' He said roads and bridges were also of great importance for the people.

GSDF officials say other livelihood-assistance programs, including training residents in irrigation and civil engineering work, demonstrated the potential for Japanese cooperation in peacekeeping efforts. They say such work, which is officially termed as civil military cooperation, was worthwhile.

In cooperation with the U.N. Development Program, GSDF troops also trained residents in building irrigation facilities and bridges. As well, they independently ran programs teaching Timorese how to use and repair bulldozers and other construction equipment that will be left after the troops' departure.

January saw the completion of a major irrigation channel that was rebuilt by about 450 locals, including former independence fighters and widows. The ceremony was attended by Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri.

According to UNMISET officials, such training and livelihood-improvement activities are becoming a vital part of troops' missions. Australian and Thai forces have members dedicated exclusively to such civil military support.

Assistance can also take the form of medical care, training in farming and computer education.

However, such missions are not without problems. A 45-year-old engineer of the public works ministry said heavy machinery the GSDF is leaving behind is so state-of-the-art that it is difficult to use without extensive training. ``We need assistance in further training. There is also the concern of finding replacement parts,'' he said.

Some believe nongovernmental groups are better placed to manage such projects. Many aid workers say such organizations can respond to local needs with more efficiency.

East Timor has had a troubled history. Civil war prevailed after Portugal backed out of its former colony in 1974. The following year, Indonesia invaded and occupied the island, situated in the southeast Malay Archipelago. After President Suharto's departure from office in 1998, a 1999 referendum cleared the path for independence.(IHT/Asahi: May 20,2004) (05/20)


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