Subject: AU: Timor bishop asks UN to stay

Timor bishop asks UN to stay

By Patricia Karvelas and agencies (The Australian)

January 08, 2004

EAST Timor's Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Carlos Belo has pressed the United Nations to extend its mandate in the country beyond June because armed militias still pose a threat to the world's newest nation.

Speaking in the northern Portuguese town of Vila Real to a contingent of soldiers scheduled to depart to East Timor later this month, he said the militias were still active in areas just across the border with former occupier Indonesia.

"The United Nations must take this situation into account and should think of changing its strategy of pulling out all their forces in the spring of 2004," he said.

The Weekend Australian reported last week that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had formally recommended an extension of the world body's mandate 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 UN mission after the deadline is still expected to be a force of up to 150 police, due to replace the UN's 1750-strong peacekeeping force.

But concerns about the capacity of East Timor's fledgling police force to meet the May 20 deadline to take over border security could generate a major rethink.

Portugal is sending 506 soldiers on January 17 to join the UN peacekeeping force.

East Timor won independence from Indonesia last May. Its Government, supported by Australia and Japan, has argued for an extension of the UN presence.

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