Subject: Aussie Troops To Remain In Timor-Leste, Downer

TAKE ACTION: Tell the U.S. and Australia to Support a Unified UN Mission in Timor-Leste

Bernama The Malaysian National News Agency

July 26, 2006 Wednesday


from BERNAMA, The Malaysian National News Agency KUALA LUMPUR, July 26 (Bernama) -- Australia will maintain its troops in Timor Leste for as long as the situation in the trouble-ridden nation has not fully improved, its Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said today

"We are scaling down our troops in the country but pulling them out all together would very much depend on the situation on the ground," he told Bernama upon arrival at the KL International Airport in Sepang near here

Downer is here to attend the Asean Post Ministerial Conference (PMC) tomorrow, followed by the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) meeting on Friday

Canberra recently began withdrawing its troops from Timor Leste as security there continues to improve

However, more than 2,000 Australian troops and police officers still remain in the capital, Dili, and according to reports, many are expected to stay until next year

The troops together with the Malaysian peacekeeping force were deployed in May to quell fighting between rival factions of the military of Asia Pacific's newest nation

Downer said Australia hoped to resume talks on Asean-Australia and New Zealand free trade agreement (Asean-ANZ FTA) during the PMC

He said that although some progress had been made, it was still looking to continuing to build constructive engagement with Asean countries

"Progress has been made on the economic issues and we hope to commence Asean-ANZ FTA talks, including negotiations we had with Malaysia for an FTA," he said

Australia has long sought free trade with Asean but had to settle in 2001 for talks on a closer economic partnership -- a looser trade framework -- short of tariff cuts

Australia has already signed free trade deals with Singapore, Thailand and the United States and is negotiating free trade agreements with Malaysia and China

It was reported earlier that an FTA could bring an estimated total economic gain of some A$48 billion (RM134 billion) annually to the 12 countries involved

Two-way trade between just Australia and Asean in merchandise and services totalled more than A$40 billion (RM122 billion) in 2003

Beside focusing on the agenda, Downer said, the meetings opened an opportunity for him to meet his new counterparts from Laos and Vietnam

"I look forward to catching up with the new foreign ministers from Laos and Vietnam and it is good to renew acquaintances with the others whom I know so well over the years," he said

Regional security issues, in particular the North Korean missile testing and nuclear programme, also top the agenda as Canberra wishes to see North Korea "back in the mainstream of the region"

"We would like to see North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons programmes and the development of intercontinental balistic missiles," he said

He added that North Korea should resume its membership of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)

"It is hoped that over time, it can be achieved and if that is achieved, countries of the region will increasingly normalise their relations with North Korea...(but) for as long as they defy the international community, including the United Nations, it will be difficult," he said

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