Subject: RA: Renewed calls for UN to remain beyond May deadline

Asia Pacific / Radio Australia

East Timor: Renewed calls for UN to remain beyond May deadline 20/01/2004

A UN assessment team returns to New York this week from East Timor amid speculation there may be an extension of its presence there. On May the 20th, some 2000 U-N peacekeepers are scheduled to hand over all responsibility for security to local authorities. However, East Timor's government says its police force is ill-equipped to deal with the effects of political divisions which still threaten the country's stability.

Presenter/Interviewer: James Panichi

Speakers: Jose Ramos Horta, East Timor's Foreign Minister; Marcia Poole, UNMISET spokeswoman

PANICHI: According to local reporters, members of the UN Technical Assistance Mission - known as TAM - told them they would recommend a delay in the planned UN withdrawal from East Timor.

If that were to prove true, it would then be up to Secretary General Kofi Annan to pass the recommendations on to the UN Security Council next month.

Officials with the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor are today refusing to speculate on the content of the TAM's report.

However, UNMSET spokeswoman Marcia Poole has confirmed there's a growing consensus that the UN should remain in East Timor.

POOLE: "I think there's much agreement between the Timorese leadership, security council members and the troop-contributing countries to the present mission that there will be the need for continued support to public administration, to the government, to the justice sector, human rights and also to the police in terms of institutional strengthening.

"There's also some sort of general agreement - and it certainly seems to have been the flavour of what the TAM is going to take back to New York, that some sort of security element should also be part of a follow-up mission, should the security council decide there is a need for a follow-up mission."

PANICHI: However, Ms Poole says that if a security component is to be included in a mission beyond the May 20 deadline, the Security Council would also have to decide what form that should take.

POOLE: "There's no indication for the moment that this might include peacekeeping troops. It might include a police element, but not necessarily peacekeeping troops.

"And that's where we might not have an indication as to whether or not it might include troops until the Secretary General makes his recommendations to the Security Council in February.

"But even then, it's important to stress that this is at the level of recommendations - the final decision is going to be made by the Security Council."

PANICHI: Meanwhile, Australia - whose soldiers makes up the bulk of the peacekeeping force - argues that East Timor is now ready to stand on its own two feet.

That's in spite of the fact that East Timorese government representatives left the UN mission in no doubt they oppose the scheduled withdrawal.

Among those who met with the mission is the country' foreign minister, Jose Ramos Horta.

He says with East Timor's nascent police force still undertrained and under- resourced, the presence of UN military or police personnel remains vital.

RAMOS HORTA: "We think it would be premature for the UN to pull out the peacekeeping troops.

"The peacekeeping troops here, we believe, would never be necessary for them to be called. In fact, Indonesia has shown statemanship and realism, along with good faith.

"So the UN peacekeeping force would have more of a psychological deterrence element here."

PANICHI: But if the East Timorese government says it has nothing to fear from the thousands of refugees across the border in West Timor, why then the need for UN security?

East Timor's former Catholic Archibishop, Carlos Belo, is blaming internal political dissidents who, he believes, still pose a security risk.

And Mr Ramos Horta agrees with that assessment.

Although he says the groups can be managed, providing the UN remains in the country as a deterrent - possibly until the end of 2006.

RAMOS HORTA: "Yes, we do have internal dissedents, we do have a faction that is a bit weird, a bit unusual. I know this faction - I have met with them on numerous occasions.

"They are a sort of radical fringe of Fretilin. But they are just a radical fringe. I don't think they constitute a major threat, as such."

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