Australia is to withdraw the number of soldiers operating in East Timor because of the improved security situation, the federal government has announced.
Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said the Australian Defence Force would cut back its total force presence in East Timor 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," Mr Fitzgibbon said in a statement on Wednesday.
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.
Following the draw-down, the force will total 790 Australian and New Zealand personnel.
Mr Fitzgibbon said there was no change to the mission and Australian and New Zealand troops would continue to play a key role in East Timor's security.
"The ISF will continue to provide security support to the government of East Timor and the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) in order to maintain a stable environment," he said.
Mr Fitzgibbon 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.
He said Australia remained committed to supporting the government of East Timor in developing its Defence Force and maintaining security and stability. (news.theage)