Subject: AU: Annan's security concerns for E Timor

Weekend Australian

Annan's security concerns for E Timor

By Patrick Walters, National security editor

January 03, 2004

Deepening security concerns about East Timor have prompted UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to formally recommend an extension of the world body's mandate in Dili beyond its May 20 deadline.

Mr Annan wrote to the Security Council late last month seeking approval for the two-year-old United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor to stay in place.

The core component of the new UN mission is still expected to be a 120- to 150-strong police force, which is slated to replace the UN's 1750-strong military peacekeeping force. But serious concerns about the capacity of East Timor's fledgling police force to meet the May 20 deadline to take over responsibility for border security could generate a major rethink of the UN's previous assumptions.

East Timor Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta says his country needs a minimum UN presence of 350 to 400 heavily armed police to act as a ready reaction force. Dili would also like Australian combat troops to stay on in Timor after the May deadline - an option ruled out by Canberra.

A UN review team led by one of the organisation's top security experts, Julian Harston, is due in Dili next week to determine the composition of the UN's security presence beyond May 2004.

Security experts now say that with the looming security vacuum there is a real prospect any renewed UN mandate may have to include combat troops in addition to military observers.

East Timor's Government, strongly supported by Australia and Japan, has argued for an extension of the UN presence to help underpin the two-year-old nation's security and fragile governing institutions.

East Timorese are deeply apprehensive about the withdrawal of the UN's military peacekeeping operation from May 20 - particularly along the country's sensitive border region with the neighbouring Indonesian province of West Timor.

The current blueprint involves the UN Peacekeeping Force, which still includes about 400 Australians, being replaced by the smaller UN police force as a military observer group to advise on border security issues.

"To get a consensus in the Security Council to do more than what is currently being proposed would be extremely difficult," Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer told The Weekend Australian.

"It has been pretty difficult to get the Security Council to agree to do anything more in East Timor."

The expected one-year extension of the UN mission is yet to be approved by the Security Council, with Mr Harston's review team due to report to Mr Annan by late January.

In addition to any UN security force, about 70 UN civilian advisers are expected to remain in Dili to assist government ministries.

Mr Downer said it was still too early to be precise about the composition of the UN mission "Mark 2".

"Some of our closer friends on the Security Council have been pretty against having any successor mission at all," he said.

"The view has been that the job is done. We have implored them that there must be a continuing mission."

Mr Downer said Canberra's view was that a 120-strong UN police force with military and police observers would be an adequate presence after May 20.

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