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UN begins withdrawal from East Timor after 6 years

Australian Associated Press - October 23, 2012

UN peacekeepers will hand over full responsibility for policing to East Timor next week as they begin withdrawing in earnest from Asia's youngest nation, a UN official says.

The final batch of peacekeepers will leave in December in line with a timetable to depart by the end of the year, said Finn Reske-Nielsen, head of the United Nations Integrated Mission in East Timor (UNMIT), on Tuesday.

"We will pull them out over the next two months. By the 15th of December there will be no UN police (peacekeepers) left in the country," he told reporters in Jakarta.

The current UN mission arrived in 2006 after a political crisis in which dozens were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced, with a mandate to restore security.

The only major violence since then was a 2008 failed assassination attempt against former president Jose Ramos-Horta, and the country this year held largely peaceful presidential polls and general elections.

The UN partially handed over responsibility for security to Timorese police in March last year and from November 1 they will be expected to operate on their own.

It would be the "end of any kind of operation of support by the UN police", Mr Reske-Nielsen said. "At the moment whenever we are asked to provide support for a police operation, we will do that. But as of November 1 that stops and we will send the police home in very short order," he said.

A first batch of 330 UNMIT personnel will withdraw this month, with the largest contingent expected to pull out in the early weeks of November, said Mr Reske-Nielsen.

At its peak, the UN mission was made up of 1600 people and it currently has about 1270. Reske-Nielsen said the UN Security Council was expected to make a decision to formally terminate the mission next month.

East Timor, an impoverished half-island nation of 1.1 million despite bountiful oil and gas reserves off its coasts, in May celebrated a decade of formal independence after a 24-year occupation by Indonesia.