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International Crisis Group Calls for the UN Police in East Timor to Step Back

U.N. sent in an international police force in 2006 after internal disputes between factions of East Timor police and military led to violence in the streets.

The International Crisis Group issued a report calling for the United Nations police force in East Timor to "step back" and hand control over to the local government. The UN has been providing security in East Timor since 2006 when political violence brought the country to the brink of civil war.

The International Crisis Group report commends the 1,500 person United Nations police force in East Timor for re-establishing security there. The U.N. sent in an international police force in 2006 after internal disputes between factions of East Timor police and military led to violence in the streets and drove 100,000 people from their homes.

Jim Della-Giacoma, the Crisis Group's South East Asia Project director, says while order was restored, the U.N.'s police mission in East Timor has become redundant and it's authority over local police is unclear.

"In the last two and a half years while formally the U.N. has been in command of the Timorese police, the Timorese police have operated in a parallel structure, obeying the orders of their own political leaders," he said. "This is an unhealthy situation and it does not lead to the good relationship that is necessary if the U.N. is to support and actually help develop the Timorese police."

The political situation in East Timor has stabilized. There has been a democratically elected government in place since 2007 and a new East Timor police commissioner in office since last March. The report says it is time to refocus the U.N.'s third largest policing mission from providing security to supporting the local police with investigations, prosecutions and training.

The report also calls upon the government of East Timor to enact structural reforms to make the police more accountable to civilian oversight and clearly delineate the roles of the police and the army.

The U.N. spokesperson in Dili says they are studying the report and declined further comment.

The U.N. mission in East Timor is up for renewal in February of 2010. Della-Giacoma says before that happens, the government and the United Nations should develop a plan for how the two police forces will interact.

"Any sort of future mission needs to be based on a common understanding of exactly what the U.N. would do, and how many police would be there and what role they would take," said Della-Giacoma. "The problem with the mission past is that there was never any agreement and so there were never the laws passed to allow the U.N. to effectively work on issues of discipline or effectively come up with a training plan and to agree with the government on what needed to be done to fix the Timorese police.

Della-Giacoma says the report is not calling for the U.N. to leave East Timor but to shift its mission from direct intervention to training and support.