Subject: ABC: Australia still has vital role in E Timor: Labor

Also: Government 'neglecting' regional security

Australia still has vital role in E Timor: Labor

The Federal Opposition says the Government is trying to "cut and run" from its responsibilities in East Timor.

Australia has backed a call by the United States for an end to the United Nations peacekeeping mission in East Timor within months.

That is despite a recommendation from the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, that the mission continue for another year.

Labor's Kevin Rudd believes the Government's response is inadequate.

"It smells to us of a government cutting and running from its responsibilities in Timor Leste at a time when it seems to be able to find all the resources necessary to support a brand new military deployment to Iraq," Mr Rudd said.

Mr Rudd says Mr Annan has given several compelling reasons for an extension of the mission.

"He also says that this continued presence is necessary because of the continued deficiencies in the border patrol capabilities of the East Timorese themselves," Mr Rudd said.

"The fact that up until now there are still outstanding areas of the border yet to be negotiated fully between Indonesia and the government of Timor-Leste."

Mr Rudd says Labor will be seeking an urgent briefing on the decision from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

"Unless there is some extraordinarily good reason which the Department of Foreign Affairs and the officials there can provide us for this u-turn...I think it's extraordinary," Mr Rudd said. Changing presence

But Australia's ambassador to the UN, John Dauth, says Australia's decision is not incompatible with the UN recommendations.

"The secretary-general has made a report with which we broadly agree," Mr Dauth said.

"I think that the great measure of agreement between us and the UN, the East Timorese and all others is that the UN presence shouldn't just end at the end of the set mandate in May, that there should be a continuing UN presence.

"It's the shape of that presence that we're talking about, and in that respect we don't think there's a need for a continuing military component."

Mr Dauth says although the UN has a significant role to play in getting the country established, its presence should change.

"There's a role, I think, first for a special representative, a person who can interface between the East Timorese Government and the international community generally," he said.

"A role for civilian advisors in some crucial areas, particularly, for example, the justice sector; a role for international police in helping the East Timorese deal with the policing requirements of the new state."

He says there are two roles for Australia.

"First a bilateral role in helping East Timor - a substantial program of development assistance focused, for example, particularly on policing, on general state building functions, governance functions," he said.

"And then a role for us in continuing to be a participant in the UN presence, so if there is a UN policing presence we'd contribute to that in addition to the bilateral program we're running."

Mr Dauth says the contribution could be thought of as peace building rather than peacekeeping.



Government 'neglecting' regional security
By Sandra O'Malley and Rob Taylor


THE Federal Government is neglecting regional security by backing the US in opposing an extension of the UN peacekeeping mission in East Timor, Labor warned today.

East Timor wants peacekeepers to remain past a May withdrawal deadline, a position shared by the UN.

But Australia and the US have opposed recommendations by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for a scaled-down peacekeeping mission to remain in East Timor after May.

Mr Annan says a May pullout could affect security and stability.

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd described the Government move as extraordinary, particularly in light of its decision to deploy an extra 450 troops to Iraq.

"While the Howard Government's priorities are firmly fixed on the other side of the world, it continues to neglect security interests closer to home," he said.

Australia's ambassador to the UN, John Dauth, said Australia was not opposed to a continuing presence in East Timor but did not see a need for a continued military commitment.

"The great measure of agreement between us, the UN, the East Timorese and all others is that the UN presence shouldn't just end at the end of the set mandate in May, there should be a continuing UN presence," Mr Dauth told ABC radio.

"It's the shape of that presence that we're talking about.

"And in that respect we don't think there's a need for a continuing military component."

In a report to the Security Council last week, Mr Annan called for about 275 military personnel, police trainers, civilian advisers and human rights officers to remain in the country, along with a small staff for the UN representative.

The mission currently has about 900 military, police and international civilian staff, including around 100 Australian troops and police, acting as engineers, advisers and logistics experts.

East Timor's foreign ministry secretary-general Nelson Santos said Dili supported the UN security assessment that peacekeepers were still needed, describing the situation on the ground as fragile.

Mr Santos said the threat was no longer posed by the military of neighbouring Indonesia but by cross-border criminal trade from Indonesian West Timor.

"We are not really asking for a military presence," he said.

"But we would like the military liaison role, the advisory role, to remain for some time yet to maintain the status quo."

Mr Dauth said the situation on the border was sufficiently stable not to require an international presence.

Australia, instead, wants the UN provide a special representative to East Timor.

Mr Dauth said Australia also sees a role for civilian advisers to provide assistance on issues like justice, and international police.

East Timorese ambassador Jorge Da Conceicao told ABC radio East Timor's journey to independence was a success story helped by the role of the UN and Australia.

"That's why we want these countries to understand our request and also understand our need (to know) how to improve, on how to enhance the capacity of our own force, police and civilians in running the administration," he said.

Mr Da Conceicao said he was confident that Australia and the US would eventually make a "wise decision" based on the argument from East Timor.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer's office could not be contacted for comment.

Foreign peacekeeping forces have been in East Timor since 1999, when an Australian-led intervention force arrived to end a slaughter by pro-Indonesia militiamen which left 1,500 people dead following the then-province's vote for independence from Jakarta.

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