The United Nations is reducing the size of its peacekeeping force in East Timor, with an eye to closing it down altogether next year. The East Timor mission is widely seen as an emerging success story.
The Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution Friday granting a six-month extension of the East Timor peacekeeping mandate. That is only half what Timorese officials had requested.
In addition, the force will be reduced from about three-thousand to just over 700.
Diplomats say another six-month extension of the mandate is likely. But the resolution makes clear that the Security Council expects the East Timor mission to be phased out completely by next May.
At a public meeting earlier in the week, deputy U.S. Ambassador Stuart Holliday noted that East Timor had made big strides toward self-sufficiency since U.N. peacekeepers arrived two years ago. He said the time is near when the young country should be able to take care of itself.
"We believe the peacekeeping mission should end no later than May 2005, at which time the government should resume full responsibility for its own security, while continuing to receive support from elsewhere in the United Nations system and from other members of the international community," he said.
In a farewell appearance before the Security Council, the outgoing U.N. special envoy to East Timor, Kamalesh Sharma, was cautiously optimistic. But he stopped short of calling the mission a success.
"I would like to acknowledge with satisfaction the fact that the engagement of peacekeeping missions in Timor-Leste [East Timor] is widely described as having been a successful one. I myself characterize the outcomes and result as encouraging," he said.
The envoy added a note of caution, saying experience has shown that creating a system of democracy and self-government takes many years of hard work.
"All too often, what appeared to be a success story has turned sour," he said.
In a report issued this week, Amnesty International called on the United Nations to do more to make sure criminals in East Timor are brought to justice. The report accused the world body of moving too slowly, while those responsible for grave crimes in East Timor are free, and in some cases, serving in military and police services.
The Amnesty report came out just as a U.N.-backed tribunal issued an arrest warrant against Indonesia's former military chief and current presidential candidate, Gen. Wiranto, for human rights abuses during East Timor's independence fight with Jakarta in 1999.