Troop reduction begins in E Timor - Friday 17 July 2006

Australia has begun reducing its military forces in East Timor with the withdrawal of supply ship HMAS Kanimbla and several helicopters. During his visit to East Timor this week, Prime Minister Howard said on July 18, “Clearly the security situation here is vastly improved on what it was even a month ago or even a few weeks ago, let alone a couple of months ago.”

Australia had more than 3000 military personnel in East Timor in early June as well as some hundreds of police. Even with the reduction already underway, the Australian force will still be slightly over 2000.

Mr Howard said, “Over time, of course, we won’t need anywhere near that number and it’s a sign of the success that we won’t. And you can expect over the time ahead there to be not only some gradual reduction but also a rebalancing of the force…. But we don’t want to go prematurely; we don’t want to give the impression that we are here indefinitely because it’s important that there be an encouragement and incentive for the local political leadership to make the changes that are needed.”

Asked how he saw Australia working with the United Nations in East Timor, Mr Howard said, “Well, we work very closely with the UN. We came here with the full support and knowledge of the UN. I spoke to the Secretary General before we sent our people in.

“Although we came legally at the invitation of the East Timorese Government, we’ll just talk these things through with the UN and at various points we’ll put our penny’s worth as to how things should be handled. But I think we can work closely with the UN. This has been a very successful UN operation and I’ve just met the acting UN representative and he and his team were able to tell me of the progress they have made, so I am pretty positive about all of that.”

Greens Leader Bob Brown commented on July 18 that the Prime Minister should assure his East Timorese counterpart, Jose Ramos Horta that Australian troops and police will stay for as long as needed to assure peace, democracy and stability.

He said, "Our Defence Forces personnel should be withdrawn from Iraq to relieve the pressure on deployments to keep the peace in our neighbourhood. The government miscalculated by withdrawing troops from East Timor too early last year. The Prime Minister should not repeat that mistake.

"Mr Howard has said Australian troops are in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government and to help Iraq achieve stability and democracy. Australia's neighbour, East Timor, deserves no less than the same commitment from the Prime Minister.

"Mr Downer and Mr Howard must not cut 'n run from East Timor," he said.

For more information,
Prime Minister’s office (02) 6277 7700

Senator Bob Brown (03) 6234 1633 or (02) 6277 3170

Kevin Rudd’s office (02) 6277 4941