Reuters Monday, September 3, 2007; 6:23 AM
DILI (Reuters) - The United Nations mission in East Timor may be extended by another five years from 2008 to oversee the revamp of the young nation's fragile security forces, its chief said on Monday.
The United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) was established in August 2006 to help restore stability and promote unity among Timorese after a wave of violence triggered by divisions in the security forces.
The mission's mandate will expire on February 26, 2008.
"In February 2008 we will have to consider an extension of UNMIT mandate, depending on the evolution of the situation," UN mission chief Atul Khare said at a news conference.
"My personal belief is that it will require three to five years for the restructuring of PNTL (national police), reforming the security sector, and for democracy to take root," he said.
President Jose Ramos-Horta has asked the United Nations to stay in the impoverished country for five more years after its mandate expires.
Khare said progress had been made by East Timor since last year's violence that killed 37 people and drove more than 150,000 from their homes.
"However, challenges remain, the democratic culture and process still need to be nurtured and several complex problems still exist within the social, economic and political fabric of Timor-Leste," he said.
Violence erupted in several districts in East Timor last month when Ramos-Horta appointed a coalition led by independence hero Xanana Gusmao to govern after no party won a majority in parliamentary elections on June 30.
Khare said the presence of U.N. police and foreign troops had been instrumental in improving security but the post-election violence served as a reminder the situation was still fragile.
East Timor became independent in 2002 after a bloody vote on independence from Indonesia in 1999 and a period of U.N. administration.
Meanwhile, a commission set up by Indonesia and East Timor to look into events surrounding the independence vote will question Prime Minister Gusmao, Ramos-Horta and the army chief in Dili later this month, commissioner Achmad Ali from Indonesia said.
The United Nations estimates about 1,000 East Timorese died during the post-vote mayhem, blamed largely on pro-Jakarta militias backed by elements of the Indonesian army.
Indonesian officials said about 100 people were killed.
Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 at the end of Portuguese rule and annexed the territory later that year, maintaining a heavy and sometimes harsh military presence.