DILI (AFP) — East Timor wants foreign troops to stay on its soil for at least one more year as instability is still a threat to the young nation, the prime minister said Friday.
Foreign troops were still needed to ensure security in the wake of a foiled rebel attack on the country's leaders in February, Xanana Gusmao told reporters alongside visiting Australian Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon.
The attack, which wounded President Jose Ramos-Horta and left rebel leader Alfredo Reinado dead, raised fears of a return to chaos similar to 2006 fighting among soldiers and police that killed at least 37 people.
Gusmao said he was responding to "conflicting reports" at home and abroad that a reduction in troops from Australia and New Zealand was imminent.
"As a state, our security is still fragile and all must agree that the ISF (International Stabilisation Force) should remain for the next year," he said.
He said the scope for unrest after the February attacks "may have been even worse than the 2006 crisis" but for the presence of international forces.
The government would look at the security situation before deciding whether to ask for a reduction in foreign troop numbers, he said.
The Sydney Morning Herald last month reported the former guerrilla leader hoped the Australian presence in East Timor could be wrapped up by the end of 2009.
Fitzgibbon said last week Australia would like to reduce its troops in East Timor "in the not too distant future", the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.
The roughly 700 Australian troops in East Timor make up the bulk of the ISF.