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Call at UNSC for delay in East Timor troop cuts

Timor-Leste: Security Council hears calls for delay in UN troop cutbacks

10 March – Sounding “a warning bell at a critical time,” the top United Nations peacekeeping official urged the Security Council today to delay cutbacks in UN military and police forces in Timor-Leste and to enhance support for local authorities in the face of recent civil disturbances and the increase in the number of armed groups in rural areas.

Briefing the Council at the outset of its meeting on a special report on the UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET), the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, mentioned the destructive riot in Dili, the capital, on 4 December and armed groups apparently driven by a blend of political and criminal motives, particularly in the west of the country that the UN helped guide to independence last year.

The report "is, rather, an effort to sound a warning bell at a critical time - to indicate to the Council a number of worrisome developments and to recommend, in good time, what we perceive as realistic and prudent adjustments of UNMISET's downsizing plan, so as to reflect changed realities and safeguard all that has been gained," Mr. Guéhenno said.

He said that in light of past experience, the UN was urging the Council to consider whether the international community should continue to seek a more "minimalist" approach, or - as is strongly supported by military experts at UN Headquarters in New York and in Dili - should it lean toward prudence, and make the additional effort suggested.

Under the planned downsizing, the UN peacekeeping force would be cut back to 2,780 in June and to 1,750 in December. The report urges, however, that the UN force 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.

"These recommendations are presented on the premise that it is easier and less expensive to pre-empt a problem, than to try to fix a problem after it has occurred," Mr. Mr. Guéhenno told the meeting, which also saw the participation of representatives of some 20 countries.

"The total cost that is implied would be modest compared to the $1 billion to $2 billion that the international community has spent in Timor-Leste over the past three years," he added. "However, we believe that this additional effort could help secure the much larger investment that has been made to date."

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