28 February 2010

UN extends East Timor peacekeeping mission, cuts police ahead of possible pullout

By: Edith M. Lederer, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS 26/02/2010 5:14 PM - The Security Council voted unanimously Friday to extend the U.N. peacekeeping mission in East Timor for a year and backed plans to reduce its police contingent ahead of a possible pullout.

The resolution adopted by the council endorsed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's intention to gradually reduce the number of international police from 1,608 to 1,280 by mid-2011, as East Timor's own police force assumes responsibility.

The council asked Ban to submit a report on plans for the U.N. police drawdown by Oct. 15 and another report by Jan. 26, 2011 with possible adjustments in the mission's mandate and strength.

East Timor's Deputy Prime Minister Jose Luis Guterres told the council on Tuesday the government agrees with Ban that the mission should remain in the country until 2012. He indicated the government wants it to withdraw at that time.

Noting that civilians and police from many countries are serving in East Timor, Gutteres said, "we hope that by 2012 they may return back to their families, after a successful mission."

The former Portuguese colony broke from 24 years of Indonesian occupation in 1999, when 1,500 people were killed by militias and departing Indonesian troops. After three years of U.N. governance, East Timor declared independence in 2002. The small half-island nation in the Pacific, with a population of 1 million, has faced political turmoil and is still impoverished with chronic unemployment, but it is benefiting from large offshore oil and gas resources.

In early 2006, just as the U.N. was finishing its withdrawal, fighting broke out between rival police and army factions, killing dozens and toppling the government. Then, in February 2008, President Jose Ramos-Horta was nearly killed by rebel gunmen in an ambush.

Ban said in a report to the council earlier this month that he welcomed the commitments of all parties to ensure peace and security in the country, but he cautioned that "institutions are still fragile, inluding those in the security and justice sectors."

"How well they could withstand another major crisis remains uncertain," the secretary-general said.

He said many underlying factors that contributed to the 2006 crisis remain, despite measures taken to address some of them, including "tensions among the political elite, difficulties within the security institutions, poverty and its associated deprivations" and high unemployment, especially among young people.

The council resolution takes note "of general stability through further improvements in the political and security situation." It reiterates the council's call on East Timor's leaders to continue to pursue peaceful dialogue and "avoid violent means to resolve differences."

The council backed the phased resumption of primary policing responsibilities by East Timor's force and said U.N. police should continue to ensure public security until the country's police force "is fully reconstituted." It called for intensified efforts to assist the East Timor force with further training and mentoring in order to improve its effectiveness.

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