22 Oct 2008

Australia to cut troop numbers in East Timor

12:16 pm on 22 October 2008

Australia will reduce the number of peacekeeping troops it has in East Timor as security there continues to improve.

Australian Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said in a statement on Wednesday the East Timorese authorities have shown through their professional handling of the security situation that the time is now right for some drawdown.

East Timor became independent from Indonesia in 2002. However, the army split along regional lines in 2006: 37 people were killed and 150,000 fled their homes in the aftermath.

In February, rebels made an unsuccessful attempt to kill President Jose Ramos Horta, who was seriously wounded and was flown to Australia for surgery. Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao escaped injury in the attack.

Mr Fitzgibbon said about 100 Australian soldiers would return home early in 2009, leaving 650 in East Timor. They form the bulk of a 790-strong stabilisation force that includes troops from New Zealand.

More than 2,500 foreign troops and police remain in the country to help maintain stability.