WELLINGTON (AP)--United Nations peacekeeping forces in East Timor should be able to begin scaling back by the end of 2002, a senior representative of the territory said Tuesday.
But Jose Ramos Horta warned any reduction in the present 8,000 strong force “will be conditioned by the situation ... in West Timor,” the Indonesian region on the west of Timor island.
“In order to facilitate the peace and independence of East Timor, there should be no early withdrawal,” Ramos Horta told National Radio.
Instead, the troop force could “downsize to a level which does not jeopardize the stability of the territory,” he said.
Ramos Horta - who is expected to become the territory’s foreign minister when it becomes fully independent next year - said recently a peacekeeping force would have to remain for some years yet because of instability within the territory and in neighboring West Timor.
Ramos Horta didn’t indicate the size of the troop commitment the territory would need beyond the end of 2002.
The troops have spent nearly two years securing the territory after armed militia gangs rampaged through it killing, burning and looting after inhabitants voted for independence from Indonesia on Aug. 30, 1999.
At the weekend, Defense Minister Mark Burton said New Zealand was considering extending its commitment of a battalion-size unit to the United Nations force until the end of 2002.
Ramos Horta said if the peacekeeping force, which also includes troops from Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand and several other states, is cut back next year, New Zealand should be among the first to have some troops sent home.
Jose Ramos-Horta Added June 12
Mr Jose Ramos-Horta is an internationally-renowned spokesperson for the East Timorese cause. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for “sustained efforts to hinder the oppression of small people”.
Mr Ramos-Horta has been a dynamic and determined advocate for a free and independent East Timor. From 1976 until 1989, he was the permanent representative of the Frente Revolucionaria de Timor Leste Independente (FRETILIN) at the United Nations. He currently holds the position of Cabinet Member for Foreign Affairs, United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor.