Subject: AU: E Timor defiant on boost to forces

The Australian (Australia)

June 14, 2007

E Timor defiant on boost to forces

Mark Dodd

EAST Timor's Prime Minister has thumbed his nose at Australia by announcing plans to give military chiefs free rein to spend millions of dollars raised from oil and gas fields to upgrade the country's defence force.

Just a week after Foreign Minister Alexander Downer called on the impoverished nation to spend money on infrastructure, not weapons, Prime Minister Estanislau da Silva has endorsed pre-election military spending and argued the armed forces should have more autonomy on procurement.

While Mr Downer said last night he was confident the plan would not proceed, Mr da Silva has told East Timorese reporters that the Timor Defence Force should manage its own finance and recruitment and should pursue development of its assets.

This would weaken the current system, under which parliament oversees defence procurement.

The news triggered a warning from defence expert Bob Lowry that the tiny nation could descend into chaos if it spent its scarce resources on weapons and allowed the watering down of good governance standards.

The Australian revealed last week that East Timor had produced the equivalent of a defence white paper outlining a plan for big military spending.

Mr da Silva said: ''The head of the Government agrees with F-FDTL (the defence force) on the question of financial procurement, which should be the responsibility of the defence ministry in order to allow it to improve its work. To continue this program (Force 2020), attention needs to be given to purchasing new equipment, including a naval component allowing the F-FDTL to operate in East Timorese waters.''

The 2020 report, prepared without the advice of Australian defence officials or others helping keep security in East Timor, recommended the purchase of several missile-equipped corvette-class warships to enforce the country's vulnerable maritime zone.

Last night, Mr Downer played down the Prime Minister's remarks, linking them to electioneering ahead of a national poll on June 30.

''I am confident Force 2020 will not happen as East Timor does not have the resources to deliver such a large military,'' he said. ''Australian and international defence advisers are working with their East Timorese counterparts on the 2007-2010 force development plan to develop realistic capabilities.''

Mr Lowry, an expert consultant in Southeast Asian politics and defence, warned the events pointed to a real danger that East Timor's fragile democracy could be derailed.

''Some people in the Australian defence community over there (East Timor) are saying don't get too worried, it's just an aspirational doctrine. But the trouble with these sort of things (defence plans) is, they do infiltrate themselves into the political system.

''Anyone with half a brain would know there is only one role for the (East Timor) military -- if they decide to have one -- and that is to back up the police.''

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