WORLD> Asia-Pacific
Australia to withdraw troops from Timor-Leste
Updated: 2008-10-22 14:33

CANBERRA -- Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said here on Wednesday his country was to withdraw the number of soldiers operating in Timor-Leste because of the improved security situation.

Fitzgibbon said the Australian Defense Force would cut back its total force presence in Timor-Leste to approximately 650 personnel by early next year.

Currently, the Australian-led International Stabilisation Force (ISF) comprises around 750 Australian troops plus some from New Zealand.

"The reduction in the total number of deployed personnel under Operation Astute is appropriate given improvements in the security situation in East Timor," Fitzgibbon said in a statement.

He said the Australian government was encouraged by the growing ability of the East Timorese agencies, with support from the United Nations, to deal with security.

"The East Timorese authorities have shown through their professional handling of the security situation that the time is now right for some draw-down of the Australian ISF presence," he said.

But he said Australia would also maintain the ability to rapidly reinforce the ISF at short notice if required, as was demonstrated earlier this year following the assassination attempt directed at the nation's political leaders.

Following the draw-down, the force will total 790 Australian and New Zealand personnel.