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New Zealand reduces East Timor troop numbers 28/08/2006
20:02:32

The New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark, has announced the withdrawal a platoon of 44 troops from East Timor because the security situation has improved in the impoverished nation.

About 200 troops have been in East Timor following violence which broke out in May and left at least 21 people dead and resulted in the deployment of some 3,200 Australian-led foreign peacekeepers.

New Zealand Defence Minister Phil Goff says more patrolling and security duties are being taken over by foreign and local police as the situation becomes calmer.

"We will still need to retain enough troops in East Timor to provide support to the police should it be required and assist with other logistical and support tasks. This group will consist of up to 161," he said.

The returning personnel will be home by the end of August.

The UN Security Council Friday approved a Japanese resolution that establishes a mission for at least six months including up to 1,608 police personnel and up to 34 military liaison and staff officers.

The military component of the mission still has to be finalised because although many countries want a military force under UN command, Australia wants to retain control of a joint military force.

Ms Clark says New Zealand supported a UN-led military force but said any decision would have to reached through consensus.

"The broader UN mission does suggest the UN is taking seriously the need to start again with the nation-building in East Timor," she said.

At least 150,000 people in the nation of about one million remain in makeshift camps, still too uncertain of the security situation to return to their homes, according to UN estimates.

Produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation

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