July 27, 2006

East Timor asks U.N. for 800-strong police force

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - East Timor has asked the United
Nations to deploy more than 800 international police to ensure
stability in the troubled Southeast Asian state, Prime Minister
Jose Ramos-Horta said on Thursday.

He said the police would be needed for two to five years,
along with a separate U.N. peace-keeping force as a deterrent
against renewed violence.

"We are requesting over 800 international police, many
civilian advisers as well as peace-keeping," he told a news
conference during a meeting of Asian foreign ministers in

Tiny East Timor plunged into political crisis nearly three
months ago when former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri dismissed
around 600 troops after they protested against discrimination.
At least 20 people died in the clashes and arson that followed.

Australia is leading a 2,500-strong U.N.-endorsed
peacekeeping force, which also includes troops from Malaysia,
New Zealand and Portugal, that was brought in to restore peace
in Asia's newest state.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said he hopes
U.N.-led police and troops can join the Australian-led troops
in six months and eventually take over the peacekeeping

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, also in Kuala
Lumpur for talks with Asian states, said the request for 800
international police seemed ambitious.

"He's right to be focusing on police," he told reporters.
"I think to get 800 of them is very ambitious."

But Ramos-Horta said the United Nations should not repeat
the mistake it made in 1999-2000. Then, it was slow to act as
pro-Indonesia militias fought a bloody backlash against the
territory's struggle for independence, which it gained in 2002.

A wave of systematic violence and destruction swept over
East Timor, forcing most of the population from their homes and
destroying much of the country's infrastructure.

"Nation-building is a long-term process," Ramos-Horta said.

"When the United Nations commits itself to a post-conflict
situation and the wish is to assist, it must not be guided only
by cost-cutting calculations," he added.

East Timor is one of the poorest and most fragile states,
with massive unemployment, but it sits beside one of the
region's richest gas reserves beneath the Timor Sea.

It has a petroleum fund worth $700 million and swelling
fast, fed by revenue from a joint gas field called Bayu Undan
in waters between East Timor from Australia. The two nations
share revenue from the field, with East Timor receiving 90

The fund should hit $1 billion by year-end, Ramos-Horta
said. It also stands to receive another income stream worth
nearly $15 billion over 20 years from a new, larger joint

But Ramos-Horta said his country needed skills as well as
cash and that Malaysia had offered on Thursday to assemble a
team of economic advisers to help formulate a long-term
economic development plan for East Timor.