Subject: NZ could face bigger Timor bill

NZ could face bigger Timor bill

New Zealand Herald 18.08.2001

By JOHN ARMSTRONG political editor

New Zealand is fighting a move by France to speed up the United Nations withdrawal from East Timor - which would leave Australia and New Zealand footing an even greater bill for that country's reconstruction.

Foreign Minister Phil Goff will raise the issue with a senior French official when he arrives today in Nauru, which is hosting this year's Pacific Islands Forum.

Australia is undertaking similar lobbying and wants a meeting with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan before the Security Council decides in October on the timetable for withdrawal.

The Sydney Morning Herald yesterday reported that a group of countries, led by France, thinks the UN should encourage Australia and its neighbours to accept responsibility for continuing civil and administrative assistance in East Timor.

The UN could then pull out much of its civilian staff and divert resources to conflicts in Africa.

It would also relieve France and the others of their funding obligations to East Timor and increase the burden on Australia and other Asia-Pacific countries.

The UN mandate in East Timor runs until next February. New Zealand peacekeeping soldiers are committed to staying in East Timor until November next year. The deployment has already cost $75 million.

With East Timor not scheduled to gain formal independence until the middle of next year, New Zealand is lobbying for a staged withdrawal and an effective, well-financed UN presence after independence.

"If we have learned anything from the decolonisation process," Mr Goff said yesterday, "surely we have learned that when a country gains its independence it needs to have been properly prepared, rather than thrown into a situation which ends up with instability, poor government and post-independence violence."

Having raised the matter in other international forums and with major powers such as the United States, Mr Goff said he was confident the UN would stay until independence and pull out only progressively after that.

Mr Goff also intends enlisting Portugal - the colonising power in East Timor - to persuade European Union countries such as France not to take "precipitate action".

During Security Council discussions last month, all countries supported a gradual withdrawal that would be shaped by any emerging security or administrative problems.

But France believes Australia and its Asia-Pacific neighbours should accept the same level of responsibility in East Timor as the Nato allies have in the Balkans. It says the move would be consistent with the UN's objective of seeking regional solutions to regional problems.

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