|Subject: AFP/RT: UN predicts independence
for East Timor by late 2001
Also: Reuters - UN official sees way to independence in East Timor
UN predicts independence for East Timor by late 2001
UNITED NATIONS, June 27 (AFP) - East Timor should hold elections and even gain full independence by late 2001, just more than two years after an orgy of violence followed its vote to leave Indonesia, the UN's administrator for the territory said Tuesday.
Sergio Vieira de Mello told the United Nations Security Council he had discussed dates for the polls with East Timorese leaders including resistance figurehead Xanana Gusmao.
"I feel safe in predicting that elections, and possibly independence, will take place next year at some point between 30 August and the beginning of December 2001," he said.
"The elections will in all likelihood be for a constituent assembly," de Mello said.
He proposed that a coalition government should be set from July up to "render the transition to government less sudden and help the concept of governmental responsibility assert itself."
The National Council for Timorese Resistance had agreed to take the posts of internal administration, economic and social affairs and infrastructure, he said.
The United Nations would retain control of finances, justice security and constitutional and electoral affairs.
East Timor 's vote for independence in August last year set off a wave of militia violence that many observers believe was orchestrated by the Indonesian military.
The territory's capital, Dili and other major towns, were razed to the ground, an unknown number of people were killed and hundreds of thousands fled for their lives to refugee camps across the West Timor border.
The United Nations has attempting to rebuild the territory from scratch since October, when it took over day-to-day running of its administration from an Australian-led multinational peace force sent to restore order.
Indonesia annexed East Timor , a former Portuguese colony, in 1976 and has been accused of a catalogue of human rights violations.
UNITED NATIONS: UN official sees way to independence in East Timor .
By Evelyn Leopold
UNITED NATIONS, June 27 (Reuters) - The U.N. administrator for East Timor predicted on Tuesday that elections and possibly independence for the former Portuguese colony could take place by the end of 2001.
But Sergio Vieira de Mello told the U.N. Security Council during an all-day debate that the devastated territory, plagued by unemployment, a dearth of skilled personnel and an army of homeless, still faced enormous obstacles before independence.
The elections would be for a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution but independence was not expected to follow immediately after the poll, he explained.
Nevertheless, he said that after talks with East Timorese independence leader Xanana Gusmao "I feel safe in predicting that elections and possible independence will take place next year at some point between August 30 and the beginning of December 2001."
He said the final dates would be determined by how quickly progress could be made on attaining "minimum criteria for independence" that included reducing extreme poverty, a functioning judiciary, a reconstruction of public services and a viable administration with trained Timorese to run it.
The United Nations was mandated to run East Timor during its transition to independence after residents last August 30 voted overwhelmingly to cut ties with Indonesia, which had invaded the territory in 1975 when Portugal quickly withdrew.
In protest, armed gangs, organised by the Indonesian military, ran amok, killing hundreds, herding a quarter of the population into camps in Indonesian-run West Timor and leaving most towns in smouldering ruins. They were repelled by an Australian-led international force.
U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke said he wanted to "associate our government in the strongest possible terms" with the timetable Vieira de Mello proposed.
"This would be a historic event, a single achievement for the United Nations and the world community," he said.
Vieira de Mello said Timorese would shortly be taking over for the first time portfolios in infrastructure, internal administration, economic and social affairs while finance, justice and security would stay with the U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET).
But many of the problems that have plagued the United Nations from the start remain: attacks by pro-Jakarta militia who control more than 100,000 refugees in West Timor and bureaucracies within the United Nations and the World Bank in transmitting funds for promised projects.
Reports from East Timor say the militia chiefs, which had left after the violence, have slipped back into West Timor . The militia now has more arms, is attacking border positions and recently assaulted U.N. relief staff in the camps.
"Our sense is at least half, if not two-thirds, of the refugee population in West Timor would be prepared to return if certain conditions were met," Vieira de Mello said.
Holbrooke said the situation was "not excusable and although we support fully the government in Jakarta, we must ask against whether the Indonesian government can control the military officers on West Timor , who are certainly capable of preventing this." He said that Jakarta had drawn up plan after plan to resettle the militia and army officers.
British ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock said his country had urged Indonesia "to get a trip of the situation and that message must go out from the whole council."
But no statement was issued. The United States had frozen military assistance to Indonesia because of the militia activities but lifted it earlier this year.
Holbrooke also approved of a plan to cut down the 8,650 U.N. troops in East Timor by about 1,400 by next April, saying they could be pulled from the eastern part of the island, which was peaceful. But other members questioned the feasibility of any reduction without another briefing to the council.
Vieira de Mello noted that East Timor was the first time the United Nations had the sole responsibility for running a country and was often poorly equipped to handle it.
"Something is clearly not right if UNTAET can cost $692 million whereas the complete budget of East Timor is $59 million," he said. "Can it therefore come as a surprise that there is so much criticism of U.N. extravagances while the Timorese continue to suffer?"
Criticisms, he said, also will continue as long as rules prevent U.N. engineers from working on more than buildings for U.N. personnel but help needed build courtrooms, prisons, airports, customs posts.
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