Subject: E Timor Leaders Urge UN Council To Keep Peacekeepers

see UN press summary of Security Council meeting 

Dow Jones Newswires May 18, 2001

E Timor Leaders Urge UN Council To Keep Peacekeepers

UNITED NATIONS (AP)--East Timor's leaders urged the U.N. Security Council on Friday to maintain an international military presence in the territory after independence despite desires to downsize the U.N. peacekeeping force.

"We will continue needing the assistance of the international community, both at a security level and also to assist and advise the future leaders during the initial phase of independence," said independence leader Jose Xanana Gusmao.

In 1999, after a long battle led by Gusmao, the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia in a U.N.-sponsored referendum that triggered a wave of violence by pro-Indonesian militias. The U.N. took charge of administering the territory in its transition to independence and an 8,200-strong U.N. force is helping to maintain security.

"The success of this mission is the success of the international community as much as it is of the East Timorese," Gusmao said.

At Friday's Security Council meeting, acting U.S. ambassador James Cunningham said the United States would like to see "peacekeepers progressively downsized as security conditions permit."

Other council members said the mission should be reassessed after a new governing body is elected in East Timor in August. The vote would pave the way for presidential elections and independence sometime next year for the tiny nation on the eastern half of Timor island.

Noting that the "security situation remains uncertain," British deputy Ambassador Stewart Eldon said the U.N. military presence should remain at its current level "at least until a security assessment shows that downsizing is feasible."

"It may well be that this will not be possible before the election," he said.

Numerous incursions by Indonesian militia from West Timor persist as does the dire situation of thousands of refugees who fled fighting in 1999 to the western half of the island, which is controlled by Indonesia.

Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Hedi Annabi told the council that "there has been no tangible progress in resolving the situation of the refugees," or reports of abductions of women from East Timor to West Timor.

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