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UN on track to end East Timor peacekeeping mission in 2012

Voice of America - June 1, 2011

Brian Padden – The United Nations says that plans to end the East Timor peacekeeping mission in 2012 are on track. The UN took over the functions of the national police in 2006 after riots and factional fighting brought the country to the brink of civil war.

The United Nations has been closely involved in East Timor's development since it gained independence in 2002. The UN sent in security forces to restore order in 2006 when unrest and factional fighting forced 155,000 people – or 15 percent of the population – to flee their homes.

Gary Gray, the Political Director for the United Nations Mission in East Timor, says peacekeeping operations are scheduled to end there after the 2012 presidential election.

"Things have stabilized basically since the 2006 problems and we're pretty confident that, you know, that's going to continue and we are going to get through the key event being the elections beginning early next year," he said.

In March the UN handed-off operational control of the police force to the East Timor authorities but more than 1,200 UN police officers still patrol the streets.

East Timor's government has benefited from double digit economic growth based mostly on the development of a huge offshore oil and nature gas reserve. The project has added more than one billion dollars to East Timor's government budget.

Government officials say there has also been a nine percent decrease in poverty as economic conditions improve and new government programs offering education for all children and expanded health care take effect.

Restoring good relations with Indonesia has removed a potential external source of friction. Indonesia is East Timor's top trading partner. Both countries continue to work to resolve grievances and investigate claims of atrocities and crimes that occurred during the years of struggle for independence through a joint truth and friendship commission.

Gray says progress on victim compensation has been slow in part because of disagreements within the East Timor parliament. "So there is this feeling that before we start compensating people who were victims, we need to compensate the people who were actively involved in the struggle and those sort of arguments are delaying things," he said.

While he remains optimistic, Gray says the large number of unemployed and tensions that still linger below the surface could still shatter East Timor's fragile peace.