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ADF to reduce East Timor troop commitment -

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ELEANOR HALL: Australia's Defence Minister announced today that Australia will reduce its troop
commitment to East Timor.

Until now, about 750 Australian soldiers have formed part of an international stabilisation force
assisting the East Timorese Government and the United Nations.

But Minister says that the security situation is improving and the Australian Defence Force is now
planning to bring home about 100 soldiers early next year.

The Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, spoke to Kirrin McKechnie in Canberra.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well as you know we've been in East Timor since 1999, we're satisfied now that the
security situation in East Timor provides an opportunity now to start to slowly but surely reduce
our troop commitment in East Timor.

We are there of course, there at the invitation of the sovereign government of East Timor, I've had
these discussions with the Prime Minister of East Timor, and the Government there is quite
comfortable now about us starting to reduce our presence there.

KIRRIN MCKECHNIE: So how many troops will that leave in the country?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well we'll still have about 650 troops there, which of course, is a substantial
contribution. Our main role now is to be ready to support the UN police operation if violence gets
out of control.

I have to say that stability there remains fragile, you will recall that in February of this year
we had an assassination attempt on the President and potentially the Prime Minister. So I think
it's important that we remain there for some time to come at a substantial level, but there's
general agreement that it's time now to start reducing our commitment there.

We're satisfied that the security forces of the East Timorese Government are now well placed to
maintain peace and stability in the fledgling nation.

KIRRIN MCKECHNIE: Well yeah, as you say stability in the region is indeed fragile; could this be
seen as a bit premature?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: No, not indeed, we're very conscious of that issue, you'll recall of course that
the Howard government prematurely brought troops home back in about 2005, and in 2006 following an
uprising was forced to again redeploy about a thousand troops. We're determined that those mistakes
aren't repeated.

But at some point we need to start drawing down, the local East Timorese security forces have to be
given an opportunity to show that they are ready and able to maintain their own peace and

KIRRIN MCKECHNIE: Will more troops be on standby if tensions flare again?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well that's not our expectation, we don't anticipate the need to do that but of
course we always have troops on, in a level of readiness to move at short notice. We demonstrated
that in February when we increased our elements in East Timor by about 120 in response to the
assassination attempt on President Horta.

So we certainly have that capacity and of course we would use it if necessary, but we wouldn't be
bringing home 100 troops if we thought there is likely to be a need to do so.

KIRRIN MCKECHNIE: And the remaining 650 personnel, how long can they expect to remain in East

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well that's an unanswered question, we will continue to monitor the security
situation there, we will continue with our dialogue both with the East Timorese Government and the
United Nations and our partners including New Zealand.

We will draw down more people when we are satisfied there is an opportunity to do so.

KIRRIN MCKECHNIE: Well these 100 troops could well be needed in Afghanistan; the Defence Force
Chief has again today painted a fairly bleak picture of military success there. Would you consider
bolstering troop numbers in Afghanistan?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: I certainly, concurrency pressure have been an issue for us, it's one of the
important reasons we decided to bring our combat troops home from Iraq, but that certainly hasn't,
nor will East Timor provide us with, what I would describe as surplus capacity.

The ADF remains in high operational tempo, we remain busy and potentially over-stretched, and the
Prime Minister and I have made it very, very clear on a number of occasions that we believe that we
are punching above our weight in Afghanistan, we are the largest non-NATO (North Atlantic Treaty
Organization) contributor.

We're disappointed that some European nations, in particular, seem to be under-committed, and we
wouldn't consider sending additional troops to Afghanistan while ever so many other countries do
seem under-committed.

ELEANOR HALL: That's the Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon speaking to Kirrin McKechnie.