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Saturday, March 25, 2006

East Timor leader lauds Japan's aid toward peace


Staff writer

Japan should continue contributing to the international community's efforts to reconstruct conflict-ravaged countries, including by dispatching troops if necessary, East Timorese Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said in a recent interview in Tokyo.

News photo
Mari Alkatiri

"I think Japan is a global player. You can't deny it," Alkatiri said in an interview with The Japan Times at a Tokyo hotel.

Asked about the dispatch of Self-Defense Forces troops on international peacekeeping missions, Alkatiri said, "If the situation requires, why not?" It is up to the government to make that decision, he added.

Alkatiri, who arrived in Tokyo for a four-day visit Wednesday, said he came to Japan to express his gratitude for its contributions to East Timor and to solicit more investment from Japan in meetings with government officials, lawmakers and business leaders

East Timor, which suffered severe instability after a 1999 referendum that won it independence from Indonesia, was a showcase mission for the SDF, which took part in a United Nations-led peacekeeping operation and postconflict assistance to the war-ravaged territory.

Japan deployed a total of 2,304 SDF noncombat troops, mainly engineers, for the U.N.-led mission in East Timor, from February 2002 to June 2004.

"Japanese people are always afraid of entering some kind of conflict, but I do believe the aim of Japan is not to create conflict, but to contribute to peace," Alkatiri said.

East Timor's security has improved and the country is preparing to hold a general election next year for the first time in five years, he said.

But a U.N. presence is necessary to make the election more transparent and credible, the prime minister said, although the U.N. Office in East Timor is set to close on May 20.

The country is "pushing for a smaller presence of U.N. (staff)" for another year, Alkatiri said.

Asked what lessons the international community can learn from the reconstruction of a country emerging from conflict like East Timor, Alkatiri said that encouraging the voluntary initiatives of the people is key to success.

"Don't think you're coming to teach everything," he said.



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