Subject: Australian PM in E. Timor Talks; Sees Need for Intl Forces 'For Some Time'

also: ABC - Howard meets new E Timor PM

Agence France-Presse July 18, 2006

Australian PM in East Timor Talks

East Timor's President Xanana Gusmao has welcomed Australian Prime Minister John Howard in Dili, thanking the Australian leader for the deployment of his country's peacekeepers.

Howard was met on arrival by his East Timorese counterpart Jose Ramos-Horta before being whisked to Dili's port, from where Australia is leading a contingent of some 3,200 foreign peacekeepers.

Later the premier held talks with Gusmao and Ramos-Horta, who was sworn-in last week after months of political unrest led to the emergency deployment of an international force to restore order.

Gusmao told reporters he was pleased by Howard's presence.

"The arrival of the prime minister is really good ... because it indicates the closeness and solidarity which Australia showed by sending its troops here," he said.

Gusmao said the two leaders discussed the country's security crisis, which sparked factional fighting among security forces in May causing at least 21 deaths and forcing some 150,000 people to flee their homes.

"We also spoke about their troops, when they first arrived and for the future. We also discussed what needs to be done by the Timorese to overcome this crisis," the president said.

Howard also met with the two deputy prime ministers, Estanislau da Silva and Rui Maria Araujo, as well as armed forces commander Taur Matan Ruak and Oil and Minerals minister Jose Teixeira.

Ramos-Horta took over from ex-premier Mari Alkatiri, who resigned amid intense pressure after the unrest.

Before his arrival, Howard told Australian radio he would outline for Ramos-Horta "Australia's continued interest and support in his country's future."

He refused to be drawn on how long Australia's 1,400 peacekeepers would remain in the country but suggested their numbers could be reduced.

"I see it necessary for international forces to remain in East Timor for some time, not in the same numbers as are there now. It will be some time before it would be prudent for all of them to go."

Ramos-Horta said last week he believed the fledgling nation needed the presence of Australian forces until at least the end of the year.

Towards the end of the year, consideration should be given to the idea of the Australians coming under the UN umbrella as a peacekeeping force, he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Howard said it would be up to the United Nations to decide whether to deploy such a force.

"However, we're running ahead of ourselves," he said. "At the moment we have an international force, the bulk of which is comprised by Australians, and we'll deal with those matters in the future."


ABC July 18, 2006

Howard meets new E Timor PM

By ABC correspondent Anne Barker

Prime Minister John Howard has begun a series of talks with East Timor's new Government and Australian Defence Force (ADF) leaders in Dili.

It is Mr Howard's first visit to East Timor since the country descended into violence three months ago.

He arrived this morning on a whirlwind visit to meet East Timor's new Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta and some of the 2500 Australian forces on the ground.

As he entered talks with Dr Ramos Horta at the government palace in Dili, Mr Howard was accompanied by the ADF Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston.

Dr Ramos Horta has asked that Australia maintain its troop presence in East Timor until at least the end of the year, and keep one full battalion in Dili until the end of next year.

He also wants Australia to lead a new United Nations peacekeeping force expected on the ground in East Timor in coming months.

Mr Howard has refused to be drawn on how long or how many Australian troops will remain in East Timor.

But Greens Leader Bob Brown says that is not good enough.

"We should be making sure that we listen to Jose Ramos Horta and the East Timorese Government and not withdrawing our troops this time too early," he said.

Dr Ramos Horta welcomed Mr Howard on the tarmac, amid extra tight security and a strong military presence.

Mr Howard's visit, just days after Dr Ramos Horta's appointment, is a clear sign of support for the new Government, which will lead East Timor until the country's first democratic elections, due next year.

He is scheduled to meet the commander of Australia's forces, Brigadier Michael Slater, and hold separate meetings with Dr Ramos Horta and President Xanana Gusmao.

------------------- Joyo Indonesia News Service

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