|Subject: Australia may hand E Timor command
Also NZ TROOPS MAY BE IN TIMOR FOR YEARS -- GOFF
Also Australian troops should stay in East Timor, says Rudd
08 April 2007 - 7:48PM
Australia may hand E Timor command to UN By Peter Williams
Australia will consider handing over to the United Nations the command of international troops in East Timor after its mid-year parliamentary elections, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said.
East Timor Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta has said he'll ask Australian troops to stay on for "years" if he wins the presidential election held on Monday.
But Mr Downer said Australia was taking a wait-and-see approach to the future of its military presence in the country.
"We take the security situation month by month," he said.
"The troops will absolutely be there until after the end of the legislative elections in July, (when they're) expected to be.
"Once the legislative elections are out of the way we'll have a look at the situation, not only in terms of the international task force there led by Australia but in terms of whether we might move to some sort of United Nations-based military presence rather than Australian."
Australia has about 1,000 troops in East Timor, most sent over last year during a violent standoff between government and rebel forces.
"We have sufficient forces here in Timor now to carry out the mission we have of stabilising and supporting the government and UN, and particularly during this election period," joint forces commander Brigadier Mal Rerden, told Sky News.
Brig Rerden said the situation was calm and quiet.
"We've seen some serious incidents in the last couple of days but not on a significant scale," he said.
"They've been sporadic and they've been quickly brought under control by UN police and ourselves."
Mr Downer also said security appeared under control ahead of Monday's vote.
"We are, obviously, concerned that in the election period there could be a good deal of tension and politically motivated violence but the last I heard the situation was okay."
He said voting days were historically peaceful in East Timor, with reaction to the announcement of results having the potential to be more dangerous.
The foreign minister said fugitive rebel commander Alfredo Reinado had not been the cause of much tension in the lead-up to the poll.
"Rather surprisingly, because we thought given there is a hunt on for him and there is controversy about him, he might be a bit of a factor but that doesn't appear to be the case."
Mr Ramos Horta's main rivals to replace outgoing President Xanana Gusmao are major party Fretilin's Franciso Guterres "Lu Olo" and Democratic Party candidate Fernando "La Sama" de Araujo.
Mr Downer said a second round of voting was expected as no candidate was likely to win an outright majority in Monday's poll.
Australian troops should stay in East Timor, says Rudd
KEVIN Rudd said Australia must not repeat the mistake it made in 2005 by withdrawing troops from East Timor, as the country prepares for Monday's presidential election.
Eight candidates will vie to replace independence leader Xanana Gusmao as president in next week's poll, the first since East Timor was granted independence from Indonesia in 2002.
Mr Rudd said the electoral process presents a fresh challenge to the 900 Australian soldiers on the ground in East Timor.
He said the Australian Government should not withdraw troops as they did in June 2005, following a six-year peacekeeping mission.
The Government was forced to send troops back to the region in April 2006 after a wave of rioting, arson and looting that followed the sacking of almost 600 East Timorese soldiers for deserting their barracks.
Five people were killed and over 20,000 fled their homes.
"We've seen earlier the cost which has been borne by the Australian taxpayer of the Government's decision, prematurely, to withdraw Australian forces from East Timor," Mr Rudd said.
"Labor has long argued that we need to be there to continue to stabilise East Timor. We pulled out too early last time we should not do so again.
"The political process is unfolding, there are real challenges for our men and women on the ground in East Timor in the days ahead and our thoughts and our prayers should be with them as this is going to be a dangerous period."
New Zealand Press Association
April 7, 2007 Saturday
NZ TROOPS MAY BE IN TIMOR FOR YEARS -- GOFF
Wellington, April 7 NZPA - New Zealand may have to keep troops in East Timor for years, rather than months, Defence Minister Phil Goff said today.
``The situation on the ground is still somewhat fragile, volatile. I'd suspect we will be there for the medium rather than the short term - that means years, rather than months,'' he told Radio New Zealand.
``Usually, we look at it every year or so to determine what the difference is that New Zealand forces are making on the ground.''
New Zealand has 180 soldiers in East Timor and 25 police officers.
Mr Goff's comments came a day after one of the prominent candidates in East Timor's first presidential election, Jose Ramos Horta, said he would ask New Zealand and Australian troops and the United Nations to remain in the tiny nation for years if he wins Monday's election.
``If I'm the president of this country I will ask the UN, Australia, New Zealand to stay on here for as many years as possible,'' Dr Ramos Horta, East Timor's current prime minister, told AAP.
New Zealand has 180 soldiers in East Timor and 25 police officers.
Dr Ramos Horta's comments came after violent clashes in and around Dili, with at least 32 people injured.
``My first obligation is to ensure that women, children, the elderly, the farmers, the students are able to walk free in the streets without fear.
``Until such a time we cannot guarantee that with our own police force, I'm sorry but I will swallow my pride and I will ask Australia, New Zealand, please stay on.''
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon today called on all parties in East Timor to make the election a free and fair one.
``I hope the elections will be free, fair, transparent and credible. I hope they will be unmarred by violence and intimidation, and I hope they will lead to results accepted by all,'' Ban said in a message broadcast on local radio.
``The way these elections are conducted will be decisive in setting the tone for how your society develops in the future,'' Ban said.
``The eyes of the world are upon you. I call on all candidates and their supporters to accept the results in a peaceful manner.''
Dr Ramos Horta is considered a strong contender to succeed Xanana Gusmao in a contest of eight candidates, AFP reported today.
The powerful Fretilin party chairman, Fransisco Guterres, and Fernando ``Lasama'' De Araujo, who chairs the opposition Democrat Party, are also considered to be viable candidates. Gusmao is not seeking re-election.
Violence has pulsed through the fledgling state since it gained independence in 2002 after a period of UN stewardship. Indonesia previously occupied the former Portuguese colony for a turbulent 24 years.