Subject: AU: UN Split on Australian-led Timor Force

The Australian

Thursday, August 17, 2006

UN split on Digger-led Timor force

David Nason, New York correspondent

AUSTRALIA'S bid to stay in command of military security in East Timor has sparked a last-minute showdown at the UN, where planning for a new peacekeeping mission has reached its final stages.

Brazil, Portugal and East Timor itself are among a number of countries that want Australia's forces to step aside in favour of aUN "blue-helmet" military deployment. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is also insisting on a blue rather than "green-helmet" force.

But the US and Japan - both members of the Security Council, which will make the final decision by this weekend - are backing Australia.

The divisions were laid bare when Australian ambassador Robert Hill told the council that Diggers were best suited to provide the rapid deployment capability necessary to secure the new peacekeeping mission and should be allowed to do so independently of the UN. He said Australia had a "vital interest in ensuring that East Timor develops as a stable democracy".

But Malaysia, New Zealand and The Philippines - all participants in the Australian-led stabilisation force that has maintained security in East Timor since May - were among those wanting UN peacekeepers to take over.

Japanese ambassador Kenzo Oshima, who is drafting the Security Council resolution, said there was broad agreement on most aspects of the new UN mission but not on the military component.

He said Japan believed the best option was to "utilise to the fullest extent possible" the Australian-led international security forces already in place in East Timor.

The standoff has spilled into the discussions of the Japan-chaired Core Group of nations (Australia, Brazil, Japan, New Zealand, Portugal and Britain) where the detail of the Security Council resolution is being thrashed out. Mr Hill declined to be interviewed yesterday on the progress of those talks, saying only that Australia was "some way from bridging the gap" on the issue of the military deployment.

He told the Security Council Australia's troops had several advantages over a blue-helmet operation, including flexibility and air mobility that could, at short notice, be bolstered to meet unexpected circumstances.

The Diggers also had experience in the environment and proven command and control capability.

Mr Hill said Australia would seek regional participation in such a force in consultation with the East Timorese Government, as well as provide "a significant contribution" to the proposed UN police force.

But Brazilian ambassador Piragibe Tarrago said he was concerned at a growing tendency to transfer UN and Security Council responsibilities to individual countries. He said this implied UN support for "trusteeship", which could damage its reputation for neutrality and impartial provision of assistance.

Mr Tarrago said it was also critical for UN credibility that the new mission in East Timor have the full agreement of the local authorities, who want a blue-helmet deployment.

Mr Annan has recommended the Security Council endorse a UN mission of 2000 police and military personnel to oversee the 2007 elections and to maintain a "secure and stable environment" in East Timor.

------------------------------- Joyo Indonesia News Service

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