Subject: UN to hand policing to Timor force
UN to hand policing to Timor force
Stephen Fitzpatrick, Jakarta correspondent | June 14, 2008
UN police in East Timor will hand overresponsibility to the national force sooner than expected, despite a high-level report casting doubt on Timorese policing capacity.
The head of the UN mission in East Timor, Atul Khare, will announce an "expedited" handover of policing duties - with complete control ceded by early next year - during an Australian trip beginning today.
Some of the slack will be taken up by an increase of about 80 Australian Federal Police officers, announced in the federal budget as part of a bilateral policing arrangement.
Mr Khare denied the handover meant a reduction in police numbers, saying UN police would remain in East Timor in an advisory role for several months.
However, he said that by the time the current peacekeeping mission came up for renewal in the UN Security Council next February, he expected the force of just over 1600 police officers would have been reduced "by about one-third".
It was the UN's premature withdrawal from East Timor that allowed the violence of April and May 2006 to flare up, resulting in dozens of deaths.
A fact-finding mission several weeks ago, headed by UN peacekeeping police adviser Andrew March, found that although the reconstituted national police had coped well with significant stresses, it was still "not in a position to fully implement its mandated responsibilities". Its rapid response abilities, the report found, were "severely hampered by lack of training, personnel and equipment".
However, Mr Khare was upbeat about the handover plan, saying "the resumption of Timorese policing responsibilities, as also recommended in the report, should not be linked with the drawdown of UNPOL (the UN police force)".
He said he would be discussing with the East Timorese leadership "a plan for handing over responsibility district by district, starting next month".
East Timor's leaders, including President Jose Ramos Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, had expressed "a bitof apprehension but also considerable confidence in their own people" over the plan.
Mr Khare said it was likely that a further year's extension to the UN mandate in East Timor would be required in February, but suggested any world commitment beyond that would not be a mission of the current kind.
"There is a need for several years of along-term commitment from the international community but that would notnecessarily be a peacekeeping one," he said.
Mr Khare said the recent scandal over the UN-funded hiring of former defence minister Roque Rodrigues as a security adviser to Mr Ramos Horta was something "we should put behind us".
A commission of inquiry into the 2006 civil violence found Mr Rodrigues should face criminal charges. The mission's chief, who has been significantly embarrassed by the hiring, was urged in the strongest terms by New York over recent weeks to sever the employment arrangement.
Mr Khare finally acted this week to sack Mr Rodrigues, although, in a face-saving measure, he allowed him to resign.
The only person charged over the 2006 chaos, former interior minister Rogerio Lobato, who fled to Malaysia last year, recently had his sentenced reduced by the President in absentia.
Mr Khare called for Mr Lobato's return to East Timor and for him to be jailed.
He said Kevin Rudd's office had so far failed to confirm a meeting during the lightning trip to Australia, but that he remained hopeful. "I'm told a meeting has not yet been fixed - I'm in the hands of officials from Australia," he said.
Mr Khare will meet Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty and senior officials.