DILI, Timor-Leste, Sept. 19 (UPI) -- The commander of U.S. Pacific Command met with the Timorese government and military leaders Wednesday in a show of support for Timor-Leste's democratic efforts.
In his first visit to Timor-Leste since taking command of PACOM in March, Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating met with Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta, Prime Minister Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao and other top officials, according the American Forces Press Service.
“I wanted to express to them our gratitude for the progress that is been made here for a new independent nation and to commit those resources we have that might help the president and prime minister and chief of defense move along in their important work,” Keating said, in a statement.
Timor-Leste broke free of Indonesian rule in 1999 and formally declared statehood three years later. Officials say progress in the country has been in the face of adversity. Gusmao called the Timorese government fragile and its 700-member military ill-prepared to provide security. Widespread violence in April 2006 led to approximately 155,000 people fleeing their homes.
Australian and New Zealand troops along with support from PACOM have formed an international stabilization force in Timor-Leste since May 2006 at the government’s request.
Australian Brigadier John Hutcheson, the joint task force commander, says that despite being there more than a year, conditions in Timor-Leste are still simmering and that the country has “a long journey to go.”
At the meeting Wednesday Keating praised the Ramos-Horta and Gusmao government for advancing democracy.
“The challenges you have faced have been formidable,” Keating said. “But through what you have done, you have created an opportunity for your fellow citizens to live in an independent country. We in Pacific Command appreciate that commitment."