Subject: East Timor's First Soldiers Graduate To Form New Military

Associated Press June 21, 2001

East Timor's First Soldiers Graduate To Form New Military

AILEU, East Timor -- The first 250 soldiers of East Timor's newly formed defense force graduated from a training academy Thursday as the fledgling nation prepares for full independence next year.

Most of the troops - who have undergone 12 weeks of infantry training by Portuguese and Australian army officers - fought as guerrillas during East Timor's 24-year struggle against Indonesian occupation.

The East Timor Defense Forces will consist of 1,500 soldiers by the end of 2002, in addition to a small navy, U.N. officials say.

The force is expected to be capable of repelling attacks by anti-independence militias from neighboring Indonesian-controlled West Timor.

In the eventuality of a full-scale second invasion by Indonesia, the force will be prepared to resist until help arrives from nearby Australia and other western countries, U.N. peacekeeping officials say, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous nation and has a 280,000-strong military. It invaded East Timor in 1975 and left after a U.N.-sponsored independence referendum in 1999.

Former rebel leader Brig. Gen. Taur Matan Ruak, who has been appointed as commander of the new armed forces, said years of opposing Indonesian soldiers had made the newly graduated soldiers efficient fighters.

East Timor's U.N. administrator Sergio Vieira de Mello said the new graduates would help about 7,000 U.N. peacekeepers maintain security in the territory during historic elections for a new governing body on Aug. 30.

The territory is currently being administered by the United Nations and is expected to gain its full independence next year.

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