- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2003

DILI, East Timor (AP) — The United Nations turned over responsibility for security in East Timor’s second-largest city to the country’s fledgling police force yesterday, another step forward for the world’s newest nation.

The hand over in Baucau leaves the 2,800-member Timorese police force in control of all but one of the country’s 13 districts. Only the capital, Dili, remains under U.N. authority.

“We face no easy task,” Ana Pessoa, the minister of state administration, told the 220 Timorese officers responsible for law enforcement in Baucau.

She said the new force would work to build trust and erase memories of police abuse during Indonesia’s 24-year occupation of the former Portuguese colony.

The U.N. mission in East Timor, considered one of the most successful nation-building efforts, is being eyed as a possible model for the reconstruction of Iraq.

It began in 1999, after Timorese chose independence in a U.N.-supervised referendum. Pro-Indonesian militias and the army reacted by carrying out a campaign of terror against independence supporters. About 2,000 people were killed as the half-island descended into chaos.

U.N. troops finally restored order, and after a period of transitional rule, East Timor gained full independence in 2002.

About 3,000 international peacekeepers remain, with about 500 U.N. police officers. Another 1,000 U.N. staffers are providing technical assistance for government departments from banking to civil aviation and public works.

The U.N. mission is due to end in June.

The Timorese police force has struggled in the face of rising crime and the continued threat of pro-Indonesian militias.

But Carlos Anastacio, the U.N. acting police commissioner, said he was confident the force was up to the task.

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