10 March 2012

Australian troops must leave: Ramos-Horta



March 7, 2012 - 1:34PM AAP East Timor's incumbent president Jose Ramos-Horta says he remains firm in the view that Australian and United Nations troops stationed in his country must withdraw before the end of the year.

There are about 400 Australian troops in East Timor as part of an international security force, deployed in the wake of violence which broke out in 2006 and took the tiny country to the brink of civil war.

Along with a contingent of just under 1000 United Nations security personnel, the Australian forces are scheduled to withdraw by the end of the year.

"That's the agreement with the UN Security Council," Dr Ramos-Horta told AAP.

"We will enhance bilateral police agreements for training with regional countries like Australia, Indonesia, Portugal for training."

"But the UN is busy with many other problems around the world. They cannot continue to spend an inordinate amount of resources on East Timor."

Some international observers as well as business owners in East Timor remain concerned about the potential for violence to once again flare up as the country prepares to hold presidential and parliamentary elections.

The first round of the presidential poll will be held on March 17 while elections for the legislature will be held in mid-June.

There are also concerns about the preparedness of the East Timorese security forces to cope following the withdrawal of international forces.

But Dr Ramos-Horta, who is again standing for president, has downplayed the risk of a repeat of the unrest of 2006, and which marred elections in 2007.

The country witnessed violence again in 2008 following assassination attempts against Dr Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.

"I am completely reassured about security. I am confident the elections in March and June will go smoothly," he said.

"Our police and the United Nations police are alert all over the country. They have tremendous experience over the years in assessing the situation, in pre-empting any security threats so I am very confident it will be okay."

There are 12 candidates standing in the presidential elections but it's likely the contest will come down to a race between Dr Ramos-Horta, Francisco Guterres from FRETILIN, and Taur Matan Ruak who retired as the head of the country's armed forces in 2011.

If no one gets at least 50 per cent of the vote, there will be a second-round run-off between the top two candidates.

In 2007, Mr Guterres was first in the vote count after the first round but failed to win the presidency after Prime Minister Gusmao's National Congress for the Reconstruction of East Timor party (CNRT) threw their support behind Dr Ramos-Horta.

However, CNRT has since deserted Dr Ramos-Horta for Mr Ruak, leaving many to believe that the former armed forces chief is now favoured to win the presidency.

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