Subject: AP/RT: UN Extends Mandate For E. Timor Until Independence Day

see also: UN Media Release - Seamless Switch in ET Vital Security Council Told

UN Extends Mandate For E. Timor Until Independence Day

UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 31 (AP) -- The U.N. Security Council on Thursday extended the mandate of the team guiding East Timor's transition to statehood until the territory's full independence in four months.

But the council took no action on a request by head of the transition team to keep a small successor mission in East Timor after the territory becomes fully independent on May 20.

Instead, it said it awaited specific proposals from U.N. Secretary-general Kofi Annan on the structure and mandate of such a mission.

East Timor has been administered by the United Nations since September 1999 when the Indonesian province voted for independence in a U.N.-sponsored referendum.

That vote sparked a three-week retaliatory rampage by pro-Indonesian forces that left hundreds dead and destroyed 80% of the territory's buildings. The violence ended when international peacekeepers arrived.

Sergio Vieira de Mello, the head of the U.N. administration in East Timor, asked the council on Wednesday to extend the U.N. mandate until the former Portuguese colony inaugurates its first president on May 20, and then to authorize a smaller successor mission until 2004 which the council declined.

The 15-member council on Thursday commended Vieira de Mello's work and voted unanimously to extend the mandate of the U.N. administrators for the four months until independence.

Independence will end a 24-year quest for nationhood by East Timor. A Portuguese colony for 400 years, East Timor was invaded by Indonesia in 1975 and remained under its control until it voted to secede in the 1999 referendum vote.

UN Council Extends E. Timor Peacekeepers Until May Thu Jan 31, 4:17 PM ET

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on Thursday to extend its peacekeeping and nation-building operation in East Timor until the former Portuguese colony declares independence on May 20.

The United Nations has been administering East Timor since late 1999, a few months after Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia, which invaded the territory in 1975 after Portugal pulled out.

Peacekeeping troops, which once numbered 8,000, will be cut down to 5,000 and some 1,200 police and at least 100 administrators will remain until May.

The council's resolution said it expected specific proposals on a successor mission to the U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor, known as UNTAET, before May 20.

With East Timor's economy and political structures extremely fragile, U.N. officials have argued for a presence until 2004 as part of a peacekeeping mission, which has to be funded by all members, rather than voluntary contributions.

But how many personnel will be kept on until then is still under discussion, with nations like the United States and France wanting to see the mission wind down sooner rather than later.

Jose Ramos-Horta, East Timor's foreign minister and the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, told the council on Wednesday he was "still concerned about the ability of some former militia elements to destabilize the country."

Shortly after the independence vote in August 1999, militia and Indonesian soldiers, conducted a scorched-earth campaign to protest the poll. Many militia fled to Indonesian West Timor from where they have sporadically conducted raids.

"We ask the council to endorse the concept of a successor mission" on terms the United Nations was formulating, Ramos-Horta said.

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