East Timor's Nobel Peace Prize winner, Bishop Carlos Belo, is calling on the United Nations to extend its mandate in the country beyond June, in response to the continual threat from armed militia groups. Speaking to a contingent of Portuguese soldiers due to go to East Timor later this month, Bishop Belo warned that the militia is still active in areas just over the border with former occupier Indonesia. He said: "The United Nations must take this situation into account and should think of changing its strategy of pulling out all its forces in the spring of 2004." According to recent reports in the Weekend Australian newspaper, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has also formally recommended an extension of the mandate beyond its 20 May 2004 deadline. Annan wrote to the Security Council seeking approval for the two-year old United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor to stay in place. The core component of the UN mission after the deadline is expected to be a force of up to 150 police, due to replace the UN's 1,750-strong peacekeeping force. But concerns about the capacity of East Timor's fledgling police force to meet the 20 May deadline and take over border security could force a major rethink of strategy. Portugal is sending 506 soldiers to join the UN peacekeeping force this Saturday. Catherine Scott, joint programme manager for East Timor and policy co-ordinator for Asia, said: "The international community's immense, if belated, support to East Timor's independence could still be jeopardised if the peace-keepers withdraw too soon. There are still individuals among serving and retired military figures in Indonesia who are committed to destabilising East Timor and whose interest is to demonstrate that this new independent nation cannot succeed. The militia is their tool. They must not be allowed to succeed." East Timor won independence from Indonesia last May. Its government, supported by Australia and Japan, has also argued for an extension of the UN presence. Source: CIIR
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