27 December 2008

Australian police to expand East Timor training role

The Australian Mark Dodd 27 December 2008 - AUSTRALIA is poised to take a bigger role in the training of East Timor's police force, described in a UN report as beset with 'tremendous institutional gaps', weakly managed and lacking a budget.

Indications of a beefed-up Australian Federal Police role in Timor follow a little-publicised meeting in Canberra last month between officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Australian Federal Police, AusAID and the UN.Minutes of the meeting, which focused mainly on East Timor's security sector, are included in a confidential report by UN Assistant Secretary-General Dmitry Titov, dated December 1, a copy of which was obtained by The Australian. Following a one-day visit to Canberra on November 28, the UN team foreshadowed a bigger role for the AFP in helping rebuild a new Timorese national police force. 'We also visited the International Deployment Group (AFP-IDG) which is impressively developing into a world-class centre for training Australian, Pacific Islands and other regional police,' Mr Titov's report says.

'The IDG is keen to further support the development of UN policing, including increased collaboration on such issues as pre-deployment training and doctrine development.'

The East Timor National Police Force (PNTL) remains weak, poorly managed, without a budget and lacking any investigative capacity, the report says.

Tensions are also again on the rise between the Timorese police and defence force (F-FDTL).

'The mistrust between the F-FDTL and the PNTL is still obvious, with the former claiming that the police are not yet ready to resume responsibility for law and order,' the UN report says.

It warns against the Timorese defence force taking on a policing role.

'In this environment, the F-FDTL (army) has positioned itself as the guarantor of stability even though it has no clearly defined role or responsibilities.

'If not corrected this may present a long-term security danger and may portend further friction with the PNTL.'

One of Asia's poorest countries, East Timor exploded into ethnic gang violence in 2006 following a government decision to dismiss 600 striking soldiers protesting at discrimination by majority eastern-born commanders. The unrest led to the downfall of the country's first prime minister, Mari Alkatiri.

The PNTL imploded along ethnic lines during the crisis and efforts by the UN and key donor nations, including Australia and former colonial power Portugal, to rebuild a new national police force have so far proved elusive.

The Australian understands from sources close to the AFP that current options include a bigger training and mentoring role to help expand the PNTL.

During the Canberra meeting the UN and DFAT agreed it would be premature to set deadlines on the transfer of policing responsibilities from UN Police to the PNTL despite growing pressure.

'First Assistant Secretary (Peter) Woolcott agreed with our assessment of developments in Timor-Leste and stressed the need to avoid any artificial deadlines in the rule of law area in Timor-Leste, in particular in regard to the transfer of policing responsibilities,' the report says.

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