Subject: New Zealand sends helicopters to aid East Timor peacekeeping

New Zealand sends helicopters to aid East Timor peacekeeping

WELLINGTON, March 19 (AP) - New Zealand is deploying military helicopters to East Timor for up to 12 months, Prime Minister Helen Clark said Monday.

The helicopters' crew of 32 will take to more than 200 the number of New Zealand troops and police on peacekeeping duties in East Timor as part of a multinational force, Clark said.

The two Vietnam-era Iroquois helicopters, with a third on standby for backup, will provide added transport to support U.N. operations in a mountainous country with poor road access, said Clark.

"This increase ... comes ahead of what is expected to be a particularly volatile period in the lead up to and following elections in April," she said.

Some fear the elections could exacerbate tensions in the tiny nation, which remains wracked by political divisions and gang violence.

New Zealand first committed troops to U.N. peacekeeping efforts in East Timor in 1999 amid revenge attacks by outgoing Indonesian troops and their militias when the territory separated from Indonesia.

New Zealand troops and police returned to East Timor last May when multinational peacekeepers were deployed amid bloody fighting and gang violence sparked by a split in the military.

------------------------------------------ Joyo Indonesia News Service

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