Riots spur E.Timor call for UN police to stay
By Irwin Arieff
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – East Timor urged the United
Nations on Friday to keep international police officers in the
country for another year after deadly riots in the capital
Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta told the Security Council
that with presidential and parliamentary elections due by next
May, at least a company of international police was required
until then because of “the volatility and fragility of the
situation.” A company is typically 75 to 150 police.
“The decision is in your hands,” Ramos-Horta said, “and
this decision will decisively influence the course of events in
my country, for good or for bad.”
East Timor became independent four years ago after
centuries of Portuguese colonial rule, 24 years of occupation
by Indonesia and 2-1/2 years of U.N. administration.
U.N. peacekeepers left a year ago and the U.N. mission,
which once numbered 11,000 troops and civilians, was scaled
back to 130 administrators, police and military advisers.
The mission is now scheduled to shut down on May 20, and
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has recommended that it be
replaced by a small team of civilian advisers and trainers.
But riots broke out in Dili a week ago, after the
cash-strapped East Timor government dismissed 594 soldiers.
Protesters burned cars, threw rocks at police and officers
fired into the crowd.
Five people were killed, at least 60 injured, and as many
as 14,000 people fled their homes to seek refuge in churches
and other public buildings in Dili, said Sukehiro Hasegawa,
Annan’s special representative for East Timor.
More than a thousand family members of local U.N. staff
have taken refuge in the U.N. compound, Hasegawa said.
“Dili is on the edge. Fear is palpable among a people
traumatized by past violence. There are concerns about the
ability of the PNTL (local police) to maintain law and order,”
Hasegawa did not directly comment on the foreign minister’s
plea but said a continuing U.N. presence “would be of utmost
importance … in maintaining peace and stability.”
Australian Ambassador Robert Hill urged the 15-nation
council “to consider carefully” the plea for a U.N. presence.
Australia led a U.N.-backed intervention force to East
Timor in 1999 to quell violence by pro-Indonesian militias
after East Timorese voted for independence from Jakarta.