Subject: AP: International police securing East Timor

International police securing East Timor

By JIM GOMEZ, Associated Press Writer Wed Jul 19, 4:14 AM ET

DILI, East Timor - An international police force will take over daytime patrols in East Timor's capital from nearly 3,000 foreign soldiers next week in a major switch amid improved security following months of unrest, a top military official said Wednesday.

An Australian-led military contingent took over security in Dili in May when local forces lost control of escalating street violence that killed at least 30 people and forced 150,000 to flee their homes.

"The stabilization force feels the security situation in Dili has improved to the point where large groups of heavily armed international soldiers are no longer required during the day," said Army Brig. Gen. Mick Slater, commander of the Australian-led military forces.

"We still retain a reaction capability and can respond in minutes to any developing situation if police feel they need our support," he told a news conference.

Under the new arrangement, about 500 police from Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Portugal will replace nearly 3,000 troops from Australia, Malaysia and New Zealand in patrolling Dili's streets during the day, he said.

The troops will retain their lead security role at night, he said.

East Timor's unrest erupted after former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri dismissed nearly half of the armed forces, splitting the military and police into factions and eroding law and order. Alkatiri resigned last month amid complaints that he failed to stop the violence.

Foreign troops also will audit weapons in the East Timor police armory to determine how many are missing.

"This is not just a Dili problem, this is an issue that spans the whole country," Slater said.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, visiting Dili on Tuesday, said his country's forces would gradually scale back operations in East Timor, but promised to continue providing security.

"It's important that there be an encouragement and an incentive for the local political leadership to bring about the changes that are needed," he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said last month that U.N. peacekeepers will return to East Timor but would need at least another six months to set up in the troubled country.

Annan suggested the U.N. Security Council had scaled down the previous U.N. peacekeeping mission in East Timor too quickly after the nation gained independence from Indonesia in 2002.

The U.S. State Department said Tuesday that Washington has lifted an order calling for U.S. Embassy workers to leave East Timor, but added it remains concerned about politically motivated violence.

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