Subject: Australia Hands Over New Military Base To E Timor Army

Associated Press October 26, 2001

Australia Hands Over New Military Base To E Timor Army

DILI, East Timor (AP)--In a major boost to East Timor's fledgeling defense force, the Australian government Friday formally handed over a new training base for its use.

The modern facility, located in the town of Metinaro, 32 kilometers east of the capital Dili, was built at a cost of $3.75 million as part of Australia's military assistance program.

"The development of this facility...will play an integral role in the future of East Timor and the region," said Adm. Chris Barrie, Australia's defense chief.

The base can accommodate 250 servicemen on basic and advanced training courses conducted by teams of instructors from Australia, Portugal, New Zealand and South Korea.

The handover ceremony featured a parade by the first 450 East Timorese soldiers to complete the course.

The East Timor Defense Force was inaugurated in February this year. It currently consists mainly of former guerrillas who fought against Indonesia's 24-year occupation of their homeland.

At full strength the army is expected to have two regular and two reserve infantry battalions. These will take over the task of defending East Timor's border with Indonesia from United Nations peacekeepers.

A small naval component will also be formed to prevent illegal fishing and smuggling.

There are currently around 8,000 U.N. troops based in the territory, and most are likely to be withdrawn after East Timor achieves independence next year.

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