Page last updated at 23:12 GMT, Monday, 12 May 2008 00:12 UK

Horta wants UN to stay in E Timor

Lucy Williamson
BBC News, Dili

Jose Ramos Horta in Dili, East Timor - 20/4/2008
Mr Ramos Horta wants UN peacekeepers to stay in East Timor

The United Nations should stay in East Timor until at least 2012, President Jose Ramos Horta has said.

He told the BBC there was still great potential instability and the country needed more time to organise its police and the economy.

Mr Ramos Horta was seriously injured in an assassination attempt in February.

An Australian-led peacekeeping force returned to East Timor in 2006 after outbreaks of political violence which paralysed the country.

Mr Ramos Horta said that peace in his country remained precarious and that he would like a UN presence in East Timor for at least the next five years.

He also said it was likely the country would need Australian-led forces to stay on into next year.

Fallen showcase

Mr Ramos Horta narrowly survived a shooting attack by rebel soldiers in February, and said now was not the time for East Timor to handle its security situation alone.

"I want to play safe. I don't want to, for sake of patriotism, pride, that we should ask sorry, now you can leave.

"We should be very cautious. That's why I have said to UN we need UN police here for at least 5 years - up to 2012."

He said the numbers and the mission could change, but that a UN force of some kind was needed "to give us the time and space to reorganise our defence force, our police force, to improve our economy, to reduce the social tensions arising from poverty and unemployment".

The men board the plane in Jakarta
Indonesia handed over suspects in the president's shooting

East Timor was seen as a showcase for UN peace-building when peacekeepers left in 2005.

But a year later, a spate of political violence brought them back, including a deployment of Australian-led troops.

Many people have criticised the UN for pulling out too soon in those early years - but Mr Ramos Horta said East Timor itself must accept some of that blame.

He said many people were anxious that the UN should leave.

"I remember in 2001, 2002, they were so impatient," he said.

"I was the lonely voice arguing for a five-year mission, way back in October or September '99 in New York.

"I was telling the then head of peacekeeping operations, the UN should be there for at least five years... But he told me, well, if you get two years from the Security Council, you'll be lucky."

The unwillingness of UN contributors to pay for long peacekeeping missions, said Mr Ramos Horta, is a major problem.

Committing to a country like East Timor for several years - rather than in six or 12-month cycles - he said, would mean big improvements.

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