AP Interview: East Timor says U.N.-led force needed for at least two years
DILI, East Timor – East Timor seems to have staggered backward to its violent birth in 1999, with the government in shambles and the foreign minister saying a U.N.-led police force will be deployed for at least two years to help restore stability.Jose Ramos-Horta, who doubles as defense minister, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the United Nations was expected to debate the force’s composition next week. And in New York, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s spokesman said the U.N. chief believes that U.N. peacekeepers must return to East Timor.”For the immediate future, we need a special police force … that is a rapid-reaction force to stop riots, hooligans, looting,” Ramos-Horta said in an interview. He said the police force was “almost completely disintegrated” and reorganizing it would take time.Some 600 striking soldiers were dismissed in March, triggering clashes with loyalist forces that gave way to gang warfare. At least 30 people have been killed in the last month, despite the presence of 2,000 foreign troops, and Ramos-Horta said the death toll may be higher.More than 40 people have been reported missing from East Timor’s capital, the International Committee of the Red Cross said. The number is expected to rise after the ICRC posted signs offering help in finding lost relatives, said Ida Bucher, head of the agency’s East Timor mission.More than 100,000 people have fled their homes to makeshift shelters and camps in Dili as machete-wielding gangs have torched and looted neighborhoods. It is the worst unrest since East Timor’s bloody break for independence from Indonesian rule seven years ago, when retaliating militia groups devastated much of the territory.Ramos-Horta – who won the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for bringing attention to the plight of East Timorese under Indonesian rule – was appointed defense minister last week in an attempt to ease tensions.One rebel leader, Alfredo Reinado, said he was willing to sit down and resolve the crisis, but that Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri should quit.With various anti-government factions making the same demand, Ramos-Horta suggested that forcing Alkatiri out would be considered more of a “people power” revolt than a coup.”I find it a bit strange that my own government does not seem to be able to accept its own share in responsibility,” Ramos-Horta said. “We had a police force that was big in numbers, heavily armed and disintegrated and fought street battles with our defense force.”In talks with rebel factions, he said, all say “they want the prime minister to resign.””I have passed on the desire of the president and government to engage in dialogue,” Ramos-Horta said.As during the violence of 1999, the U.N. is preparing to commit major resources.Ian Martin, dispatched to East Timor by Annan, said the international community was working to end the violence and would help the country “through this time of crisis and beyond.”He cited the need for free and fair elections as scheduled next year, with the U.N. playing “a crucial role.” An international police force would clearly be needed then.Any new deployment by U.N. peacekeepers will have to be approved by the U.N. Security Council, but Annan understands that the gradual reduction of the U.N. mission in East Timor over the last four years will have to be reversed, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.”The council will have to make some decision as to what the U.N. posture in East Timor will look like in the months ahead, but it is pretty clear already from here that that will have to be increased,” Dujarric said.Dujarric said the United Nations’ focus for now was on helping East Timor. He acknowledged that at some point, the U.N. would have to look back “and analyze the decisions that have been made previously.”Ramos-Horta was scheduled to come to the U.N. next week with Martin to brief senior United Nations officials and the Security Council. The council would likely make a decision soon after that on sending more peacekeepers.Ramos-Horta said the United Nations also would lead an inquiry into several killings: an April 28 attack on protesters, a May 25 shooting by soldiers on unarmed police, and a deadly siege on the former interior minister’s home.Under criticism that peacekeepers weren’t doing enough to restore order, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said he wants foreign police to be authorized to arrest arsonists and looters. He also wants Australian police numbers in East Timor to double to about 200 “as soon as possible.””In order for day-to-day police work to be conducted by foreign police, there will almost certainly have to be a change in the law of East Timor,” Downer said in Adelaide.More than a dozen Australian armored vehicles rolled through Dili on Wednesday, and soldiers, some with crowbars and sledgehammers, searched abandoned buildings. Australian troops also detained about 15 men after they were caught trying to break into a motorcycle store.Downer and New Zealand Defense Minister Phil Goff expressed concerns that politicians could be exploiting the unrest, though both said there was no clear evidence.”The common message we are giving to all leaders we are meeting is that any political differences have to be resolved under the law, constitutionally,” Goff said during a visit to Dili.
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