Stephen Smith makes his first visit to East Timor as defence minister on Friday, meeting the nation’s leaders to discuss the future of Australia’s troop presence.


Mr Smith said he also looked forward to meeting some of the 400 Australian troops serving in the International Stabilisation Force (ISF).

“In Dili I will meet President Jose Ramos-Horta, Vice Prime Minister Jose Luis Guterres, Secretary of State for Defence Julio Pinto and Chief of East Timors Defence Force Major General Taur Matan Ruak,” he said in a statement.

“I look forward to discussing with them the achievements and future direction of Australia East Timor security cooperation.”

Mr Smith said since its deployment in May 2006 at the request of East Timor, the ISF had helped safeguard East Timor’s security, in partnership with East Timor’s security forces.

He said the ISF had progressively reduced its size in line with the improving security situation.

“My visit to East Timor will also mark the 10th anniversary of Australia’s Defence Cooperation Program with East Timor,” he said.

“Valued at over $10 million this financial year, the Defence Cooperation Program with East Timor is one of Australia’s largest with any country.”

But President Jose Ramos-Horta has dismissed suggestions Australian forces should remain in his nation beyond a planned 2012 withdrawal.

On Tuesday, the president said there are still some of the social and economic problems that contribute to violence, but he insists political tensions in the country are now virtually non-existent.

The comments come after a report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute which says the withdrawal could pave the way for fresh unrest.

Australia is set to withdraw its 400-strong contingent following elections next year.

Mr Ramos-Horta says the withdrawal of international forces must go ahead as planned.