20 August 2009

UN to wind back mission in Timor

UN to wind back mission in Timor Jonathan Pearlman August 20, 2009 THE United Nations is preparing gradually to wind down its mission in East Timor and believes Australia could do the same, says the mission's chief of staff, Gerard Gallucci.

The 1600-strong UN force, which consists mainly of police, has focused on training and mentoring local police since the eruption of violence in 2006, which followed the withdrawal of international forces.

Since May, the UN police have been handing back responsibility to local authorities.

Dr Gallucci said the situation had been calm since early last year when rebels attacked the President, Jose Ramos-Horta, and he expected the UN to begin reducing its forces as soon as next year. But any withdrawals would be gradual and designed to prevent a security vacuum and the repeat of the 2006 and 2008 disturbances.

''The security level at the moment is high,'' Dr Gallucci said. ''Things have improved considerably in the past 1 ½ years … In the coming months and years, there will be some reductions. We are not going to do what we did the previous time the UN was turning responsibility over to local forces.

''This time we are going to keep our police numbers constant for a period of time to assist with mentoring. We are not setting dates on this.''

Dr Gallucci, who visited Canberra to address the Australian Defence College and meet government officials, said the mission was likely to cut its $US205 million ($250 million) budget next year by about 10 per cent, before withdrawing forces. It was ''a fair assumption'' that Australia could also wind down its 650-strong force.

''We would not have started the process ourselves if we were not comfortable with the notion that Timor is increasingly able to provide their own security,'' he said.

''We have heard the suggestions that Australia and New Zealand will be reducing their forces. I don't think we would be surprised by that.''

Dr Gallucci said that in the 10 years since the East Timorese voted for independence, the biggest achievements had been the establishment of a stable democracy and justice system.

But the international community would need to maintain its commitment, especially to help resolve land disputes and assist the Government to use wisely the wealth it had amassed in oil and gas deals.

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