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East Timor is developing security policy

Janes Defence Weekly - March 3, 1999

Robert Karniol – The East Timorese resistance is quietly developing a coherent policy on security during pre-and post-independence periods that could devolve from a tentative agreement reached last month by Indonesia and Portugal.

Together with internal debate, talks are being selectively initiated with some East Timorese currently serving in the Indonesian armed forces and police, and with potential foreign partners.

Speaking by phone from Lisbon, resistance leader Jose Ramos-Horta identified Australia, Fiji, New Zealand and Portugal as countries that could potentially provide paramilitary training and equipment. Portugal, the former colonial power is already "fully committed" to suppl;ying any assistance required and security subjects will be raised during talks he expects to hold in Fiji and Australia within a month.

The former foreign minister of the short-lived Democratic Republic of East Timor further noted the importance of establishing a "highly sophisticated intelligence-gathering system, both for internal and external security". Accurate and timely information offers "the best protection" for a small country, he said, and Portugal and Isreal could help create an effective intelligence agency. Ramos-Horta said that a peaceful transition to independence should be supervised by a UN force of 1,000 to 2,000 personnel. Together with ensuring stability, this force would train a local armed police force formed around a core drawn from the resistance army and supplemented by East Timorese currently serving in the Indonesian armed forces and police.

He said that the pro-independence resistance now has an armed strength of about 1,000 although Indonesian sources give a figure of "under 200". This would be expanded to around 3,000 during the transition period to become the "rapid deployable" armed police force of an independent East Timor.

The Nobel Prize laureate added that he is opposed to establishing a standing army following independence. "I personally dont believe that a small country like East Timor should have a professional army," he said. "Rather, something along the Costa Rican (paramilitary) model and treaties of neutrality with neighbouring countries."

Such a paramilitary police force would be required for a "few years" to ensure stability following independence, he said, and then East Timor would decide on a more permanent security structure.

Despite this scenario, independence for East Timor has yet to be assured, with autonomous status within Indonesia still as an alternative. However, Indonesia's President Habibie said on 11 February that he wants the issue resolved by the end of this year. "As a friend, we will let them decide by themselves," he told a meeting of the Indonesia Chamber of Commerce and Industry.