Subject: AFP: Australia says Timor troops could stay

Agence France Presse -- English

August 2, 2007

Australia says Timor troops could stay

MANILA, Aug 2 2007

Australia said Thursday it could keep its troops in East Timor until the end of next year if the new Timorese government, which has yet to be formed, still wants to keep them.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer also brushed aside concerns after East Timor, one of the world's newest and poorest countries, announced Wednesday that it was delaying the composition of a new government.

Speaking at Asia's annual security summit, Downer said Australia could keep its 1,000 troops in the tiny nation until the end of 2008.

"It will depend on what is necessary and what the new East Timor government wants," he said a news conference on the sidelines of the summit in Manila.

"At the moment we will be keeping them there at least until February next year, and possibly until the end of the year," he said.

"No matter who pops up in the new government, let's hope the people can get some stability back into their lives."

Last week, East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta said he wanted Australian troops to remain until the end of 2008 to give the country time to reorganise its police and defence forces.

Australian troops have been in East Timor since May 2006, when they were sent in to help restore peace after unrest stoked by factions in the military and police left 37 people dead and forced 150,000 from their homes.

Ramos-Horta on Wednesday delayed announcement of the new government, saying he wanted to give winning parties more time to come to an agreement after none of them won an absolute majority.

"These things take time when you don't have a clear majority," Downer said. "It happens in Europe, it happens everywhere."


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