Subject: AFP: 'Substantial' UN police presence needed in restive East Timor : envoy

Agence France Presse -- English

July 19, 2006 Wednesday 6:53 PM GMT

'Substantial' UN police presence needed in restive East Timor : envoy

UNITED NATIONS, July 19 2006

UN special envoy Ian Martin on Wednesday stressed the need for a "substantial" UN police presence in volatile East Timor to create the conditions for credible parliamentary and presidential elections next year.

Martin, whom UN chief Kofi Annan sent on a fact-finding tour of the tiny territory on May 31 to help conflicting parties address their grievances, briefed the Security Council on recommendations for a new UN mission that will be detailed in a report due out next month.

"We have not talked numbers yet. It's a matter for the report," Martin said. But he stressed that the police force "will need to be substantial initially as long as elections place a premium on security."

Asked when the UN force could take over from the Australian-led force currently ensuring security, Martin said the UN could take over responsibility from the very beginning of the mandate of the new mission "on the basis of police elements already there."

He said police elements in the international force -- made up of contingents from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal -- might be willing "initially at least" to be part of the new UN force.

Around 3,200 foreign peacekeepers, led by Australia, have been patrolling the Timorese capital Dili since May after factional fighting erupted in East Timor's security forces and ethnic gangs began battling on the streets, in violence that left at least 21 people dead.

"It's important that conditions are created for credible parliamentary and presidential elections in early 2007," Martin told reporters, adding that the international community must also recognize that its commitment "has to be a sustained one."

Next month, Annan is to produce a report with recommendations for a new UN mission when the mandate of UNOTIL, the current UN misson in East Timor, expires August 20.

Martin said Timorese leaders were hoping that the UN would take over from the Australian-led international force responsibility "to maintain law and order directly in the short term and work again on the long-term development of Timorese police."

East Timor sank into chaos after Prime Minister Mari Alkatari in April fired 600 soldiers, nearly half the tiny nation's army, following complaints of discrimination because they came from the country's west.

A UN administration and security forces numbering in the thousands ran East Timor after the tiny nation voted for independence from Indonesia in 1999 until 2002. Only a skeleton UN team has remained.

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