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Citing security needs, Annan calls for hold on UN force cutbacks in Timor-Leste

Citing security needs, Annan calls for hold on UN force cutbacks in Timor-Leste

Citing "significant deterioration" in Timor-Leste's security environment, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called for a freeze in planned cutbacks of UN military and police forces that helped guide the territory to independence last year.

"The initial, successful progress that was achieved in Timor-Leste may have favoured the development of unrealistic expectations," Mr. Annan says in a special report to the Security Council on the UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET). "It is preferable that the international community should be reminded of the fragility of what has been achieved early in UNMISET's mandate, before downsizing has progressed beyond a point of no return."

Among factors cited by the report are riots in December the capital, Dili, which undermined business and donor confidence, showed the scale of civil disturbance that could erupt and the inability of Timorese security agencies to respond, as well as a resurgence of violence in outlying areas, including the militia-style killing in January of five pro-independence leaders and an attack on a bus last week which led to two deaths.

Under the planned downsizing, the UN peacekeeping force would be cut back to 2,780 in June and to 1,750 in December, but Mr. Annan urges that it be maintained at its current level of 3,870 troops until the end of the year and be reconfigured to better deter and react to violence.

Likewise, he urges that the composition and strength of UNMISET's police component and the schedule for its downsizing be adjusted to enhance its operational ability to address civic disturbances and to improve the capability of the Timorese police (PNTL).

The ceilings would be retained until December "to better reflect the current threats" in a situation that has changed since the plans were drawn up, the report says, adding: "Any significant improvement or deterioration in the security environment will be reported to the Security Council with the appropriate recommendations for action."

Meanwhile, four suspects detained in connection with last week's attacks on a truck and bus appeared in court in Dili today. They were detained by the UN peacekeeping force (PKF) on Thursday and Friday. Another suspect was wounded and captured after an exchange of fire with a PKF search patrol. The surprise PKF assault led to the group fleeing and leaving behind considerable military equipment, which the PKF said showed that the armed groups operating in Timor-Leste are sophisticated.