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SUVA, Fiji Islands (March 13, 2000 – Fiji’s Daily Post)---The future of Fiji soldiers serving in East Timor is in doubt, with the government scrounging for funds to keep them there.

Minister for Home Affairs Jioji Uluinakauvadra said Cabinet had agreed that the term of the current soldiers in East Timor should be extended to April 23.

"We would like for them to stay longer but it is just a question of money and how we will budget it," he said yesterday.

"If government can come up with ways of financing the troops then we will be signing another memorandum of agreement."

Mr. Uluinakauvadra said he is optimistic that the term will be extended and money will be made available.

"These kinds of rotations are only for six months but with the army it is for a year," he said.

A government spokesperson said last night that an army delegation has left to negotiate a new agreement.

He said the men serving in East Timor will continue to do so for another nine months.

On a four day-trip to East Timor last month, Mr. Uluinakauvadra said that the country needs Fiji's help, given its current state. He said the troops welcomed the new transition arrangement.

"Fiji's continued assistance in East Timor is an indication of our commitment to maintaining peace in the region," he said.

Meanwhile, the United Nations still owes Fiji F$ 6 million (US$ 2.846 million) for peacekeeping operations.

"The UN had guaranteed to provide us US$ 2.44 million by mid-March and this would be sufficient to cater for expenses until the end of the year," he said.

He said the New York mission has been provided with reimbursement requests and "the UN should be approached to reimburse us monthly."

The Fiji Military Forces had put together and prepared a company of 190 of all ranks who have been deployed along the border of East and West Timor. They left the country on January 9.

For additional reports from Fiji’s Daily Post, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Other News Resources/Fijilive.

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