Sun, May 28, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Foreign troops should have stayed in East Timor, says former commander

AP , SYDNEY

Foreign troops were too quick to leave East Timor after it gained independence, the former deputy commander of a UN peacekeeping mission there said yesterday.

Retired Major General Mike Smith, now the chief executive of an Australian charity, said UN troops should have remained in East Timor beyond their withdrawal last year.

Australia led a multinational peacekeeping force involving more than 5,000 troops after East Timor voted to break free from Indonesia in 1999, triggering a wave of violence by Indonesian troops and their proxy militias in which about 1,500 people were killed and 300,000 left homeless.

The UN administered the territory until it formally became independent in 2002, and Australia withdrew the last of its troops in June last year.

"As much as the departure of international forces and particularly Australian forces was graduated and was based on good reason, the fact of the matter is that security has been wanting since that departure," Smith told the Australian Broadcasting Corp yesterday.

"I think it would have been much better for a UN military force to have remained here, because I think that would have provided much greater reassurance," he added.

At least 23 people have been killed in four days of fighting between rival police and military factions that was triggered by the firing in March of more than 40 percent of the country's 1,400-strong army.

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