Subject: RT: UN East Timor mission should be extended, says Ban

UN East Timor mission should be extended, says Ban

Mon 5 Feb 2007 2:06 PM ET

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 5 (Reuters) - A U.N. mission in East Timor due to expire this month should be extended for 12 months and additional police sent to the tiny nation ahead of a presidential election on April 9, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday.

Ban, in a report to the Security Council, said the overall situation had improved in East Timor, which became independent in 2002, but security remained volatile and particularly fragile in parts of the capital Dili.

Australia led a force of 3,200 foreign peacekeepers to the Asia-Pacific region's youngest country in late May after the firing of 600 mutinous soldiers sparked chaos and continuing sporadic gang-related violence.

"The long term commitment of the international community to Timor-Leste (East Timor) remains critical to enabling the return of this new nation to the path of stability and development in a climate of democratic, accountable and responsive governance," Ban said in his report.

The current U.N. mission, known as the U.N. Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste or UNMIT, is due to expire on Feb 25. It is made up of some 1,068 police and up to 35 military liaison officers. It was approved by the Security Council on Aug. 25 for six months.

"In my view, an extension of the UNMIT mandate for a period of 12 months would send an important signal of the willingness of the Security Council to sustain its commitment to East Timor," Ban said.

"In order to strengthen security for the critical electoral process, I support the government's request that an additional formed police unit be deployed," he said.

Ban said Australia signed a deal on Jan. 25 to provide troops to protect the U.N. mission, along with a rapid response capacity for the U.N. police. Australia currently has about 800 troops in East Timor, along with 120 New Zealand soldiers.

East Timor's President Xanana Gusmao said last week that a parliamentary election date would be set after the April 9 presidential election. The respected former rebel fighter, elected in 2002, has repeatedly said he will not run again.

Mari Alkatiri stepped down as prime minister on June 26 after being broadly blamed for the violence. He was replaced by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jose Ramos-Horta.

Ban also said the humanitarian challenges in East Timor, which has been plagued by poverty and high youth unemployment, exceeded the government's capacity with more than 100,000 people displaced and appealed for international donations.

"It is likely that the crisis with regard to internally displaced persons will continue for some time owing to a number of underlying factors. More than 2,200 houses have been destroyed and more than 1,600 damaged," Ban said.

The territory of around a million people voted in a 1999 referendum for independence from Indonesia, which annexed it after Portugal ended its colonial rule in 1975. It became fully independent in 2002 after a period of U.N. administration.

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