Subject: RT: Downer flags significant E Timor troop withdrawal

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Downer flags significant E Timor troop withdrawal

Australia will cut its peacekeeping troops in East Timor by the end of this year, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer announced today, signalling that tension is easing in the troubled state.

But the Federal Government is still undecided over whether to deploy policemen under a UN mandate to keep peace in the country, he told reporters on the sidelines of a global security conference.

Australia is leading a 2,500-strong international peacekeeping force, which also includes troops from Malaysia, New Zealand and Portugal, that was brought in to restore peace in the tiny country, Asia's newest state.

"Certainly with 1,300, we certainly have more than we believe we are likely to need over the next six months," Mr Downer said.

"At this stage, the expectation is we will be reducing the number and reducing it quite significantly by the end of the year," he said.

East Timor plunged into political crisis nearly three months ago when former prime minister Mari Alkatiri dismissed around 600 soldiers, mostly from the country's west, after they protested against discrimination.

UN secretary general Kofi Annan has said he hoped UN-led police and troops could join the Australian-led troops in six months and eventually take over the peacekeeping operation.

Mr Downer said Australia had not yet decided whether to contribute to the UN force.

Australia's peacekeeping mission is the second time in recent years the Government has sent troops to restore order in East Timor.

Australia led a multi-national force in 1999 following a vote for independence marked by violence blamed largely on pro-Jakarta militia with ties to the Indonesian army.

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