|Subject: ADV: Australia troop numbers to
The Advertiser December 22, 2001, Saturday
Timor troop numbers to fall
AUSTRALIA was set to withdraw several hundred troops from East Timor, but was likely to keep a substantial presence even after independence, Defence Minister Robert Hill said yesterday.
Speaking after talks with the chief minister of the East Timorese Interim Government, Mari Alkatiri, Senator Hill said Australia was committed to continuing to help East Timor, even after independence on May 20.
He said he had discussed the future security needs of the new state and plans by the United Nations to reduce the number of military personnel on the island.
"If the drawdown is from 8000 to 5000 we would draw down proportionately, which would be a couple of hundred," he said.
Australia has 1600 military personnel on East Timor with the largest single group the Second Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment (2RAR) providing security duties along the western border with Indonesian West Timor.
Senator Hill said it had not been decided which troops would be withdrawn although the UN had requested Australia send home infantry soldiers rather than support personnel.
"I had some discussions this morning about what might be the mandate post-May, which very much depends on the wishes of what will be an independent East Timor, " he said.
"What I am told is that the Government is likely to ask for ongoing support from peacekeepers and I expect Australia to be part of that."
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