Thu, Jul 20, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Police take on Dili security

AP , DILI

An international police force will take over daytime patrols in East Timor's capital from nearly 3,000 foreign troops next week in a major switch amid improvements in security following months of unrest, a top military official said yesterday.

An Australian-led military contingent took over security in Dili in May at the East Timorese government's request when local forces lost control of escalating street violence. The fighting killed at least 30 people and caused 150,000 to flee their homes.

"The stabilization force feels the security situation in Dili has improved to the point where large groups of heavily armed international soldiers are no longer required during the day," said Army Brigadier General Mick Slater, commander of the Australian-led military forces.

"We still retain a reaction capability and can respond in minutes to any developing situation if police feel they need our support," he said.

Under the new arrangement, about 500 policemen from Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Portugal will replace nearly 3,000 troops from Australia, Malaysia and New Zealand in patrolling Dili's streets during the day, he said.

The troops will retain their lead security role at night, he said.

"We wouldn't be confident in making this switch if we know that there is still a major threat," Slater said.

The troops also will audit weapons in the East Timor police armory to determine how many are missing.

"This is not just a Dili problem, this is an issue that spans the whole country," Slater said.

During his visit to Dili on Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said that his country's forces would begin to gradually scale back their operations in East Timor, but promised to continue providing security, "because it's important that there be an encouragement and an incentive for the local political leadership to bring about the changes that are needed," Howard said.

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