Subject: East Timor 'still needs international help'

<> ABC Online

East Timor 'still needs international help' [This is the print version of story <>] Updated September 4, 2008 20:32:00 East Timor's prime minister has signalled a gradual reduction in the number of international troops needed in his country. Xanana Gusmao said depending on the circumstances, troops could begin a gradual withdraw from next year. But the leaders of the international military and UN police have warned that timetable is premature. Presenter: Stephanie March Speakers: Juan Carlos Arevalo, UN Police Commissioner in East Timor; Brigadier Mark Holmes, Commander of the International Stabalisation Force in East Timor. Listen: <>Windows Media

MARCH: Six months ago Dili's waterfront would resemble a ghost town as soon as the sun went down. Today, young entrepreneurs push carts laden with drinks and snacks past dozens of young people sit along the sea wall. It's just one of the many signs in East Timor's capital the security situation is improving. New shops and houses are springing up, and tens of thousands of internal refugees are beginning to leave their makeshift camps and return home. Brigadier Mark Holmes is the Australian commander of the International Stabilisation Force in East Timor. HOLMES: The environment is healthy, the folk and Timorese people out on the street, the commerce and the vibrancy of the community in Dili and surrounding suburbs, I think the security situation is continuing to improve everyday. MARCH: So improved is the security situation, and the development of East Timor's national forces by the UN police and Australian and New Zealand military forces, that Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao recently indicated he would like to see the gradual withdrawal of international troops by 2009. The ISF have a duel mandate, to support the UN and national security forces to maintain stability, and to help with training of military and police. Brigadier Holmes says while local forces are showing signs of improvement, there's still a role for international troops. HOLMES: the training and support we provide is to the sec and def forces - it is not complete. So we have not finished that job, we still have a number of folk we would like to train more and obviously assist those forces to grow in their numbers and capabilities. It's not perfect. MARCH: Ultimately, Brigadier Holmes says the timing of a withdrawal ultimately rests with the Prime Minister. HOLMES: Our role and our work here is basically guided by the Timorese government and if they wish us to stay they will indicate that to us and we wait for them to indicate otherwise MARCH: The ISF was criticised for its slow response to the rebel attacks in February, but has defended its actions. The local military has also come under fire for the increase in human rights abuses in the first half of the year. A UN report recently revealed the local military has engaged in aggressive confrontations with the UN, including one incident where a local soldier pulled a gun on an international police officer. Last financial year Australian tax payers spent $120 million dollars keeping troops deployed in East Timor. Brigadier Holmes says the money, is worth it.

HOLMES: The support role that we have here is high value for money in terms of what a relatively small number of people are doing with the Timorese. Providing that level of support, and when we are not required to do that high end stuff that we have been trained to do, using our training opportunities and supporting the Timorese security forces and defence forces in growing. MARCH: Meanwhile the UN police - who currently have executive responsibility for internal security - are looking at taking a back seat in 2009. UN police commissioner Juan Carlos Aravelo:

ARAVELO: We will probably not pull out, but we will not have the responsibility for the command of the police activities. MARCH: He says in order rescind command and hand over responsibility, there must be signs of a manageable security situation and institutional stability. A premature exit by the UN has been partially blamed for the 2006 crisis, which saw tensions between the national police and military explode into violence.

ARAVELO: I wasn't here in 2002 also in April May 2006 I wasn't here but from the records and the information we have gathered, I think you are right when you identify as a mistake the pull out of UNPOL. That is something that will not happen this time. MARCH: Nevertheless, Commissioner Aravelo says they hope to hand over responsibility to local forces by May, and will consider drawing down numbers in the second half of 2009. But even if they do take a back seat and things don't work out as planned, he says the government has indicated it is leaving the door open for the UN resuming command if trouble resurfaces.

ARAVELO: Of course we do not expect this will be a rule, might happen in a couple of places only. But in general terms we think PNTL would be ready to resume responsibility.

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