Dili: United Nations police returned full control of East Timor to the national force on Sunday, the UN and government said, more than four years after bloody clashes threatened to push the country into civil war.
Following a Sunday ceremony, from Monday the National Police of Timor-Leste (PNTL) will be responsible for the whole country, with the UN police in a supporting role, the statement by the UN and East Timorese government said.
"We will continue to work side-by-side," UN special representative for East Timor Ameerah Haq said.
"However, PNTL will be squarely in the driver`s seat, and the UN will focus on providing the training and support Timor-Leste`s police service needs to further strengthen its capabilities over the long term," she added, using the country`s formal name.
The UN will maintain a presence of up to 1,280 police to support the PNTL until after the Presidential Election in 2012, when the UN peacekeeping mission plans to withdraw from the tiny southeast Asian state, the statement said.
"The resumption of policing responsibility by PNTL at this time has the advantage of enabling PNTL to assume its role before next year`s elections and well before the anticipated withdrawal of the UN`s mission," Haq said.
In 2006, unrest triggered by the desertion of 600 soldiers over claims of discrimination forced 155,000 people -- or 15 percent of the population -- to flee their homes, and prompted the return of UN forces to the tiny country.
But in 2009 the peacekeeping mission said the conditions were stable enough for the PNTL to start resuming their full responsibilities.
The first handover of control took place in Lautem district on the far east of the half-island state, followed by "nearly all districts and units with no increases in crime rates or public order incidents", the statement said.
East Timor won formal independence from Indonesia in 2002 after a bloody 24-year occupation that killed as many as 200,000 people.