Subject: SMH: East Timor sets a course for democracy

Sydney Morning Herald August 22, 2000

Newest nation sets a course for democracy

By MARK DODD, Herald Correspondent in Dili

Almost a year since voting to end Indonesian rule, East Timor is about to launch into open politicking about the shape of its independent state once the United Nations interim administration ends.

The UN is to draft legislation allowing political campaigning for the first democratic parliamentary elections next year.

At the opening of a landmark national congress here yesterday, the head of the interim UN administration, Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello, admitted there was growing impatience by political parties to play a bigger role in the transition to independence and beyond.

"We shall soon have to prepare a draft regulation on political parties which will identify the minimum requirements for a political party to be registered and the basic code of conduct for parties to follow," he said.

"This is vital now. By setting the legal boundaries of political party activity, the current impatience that many parties are showing can be released into constructive, democratic and non-violent political debate."

The eight-day congress convened by the main independence grouping, the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT), aims to ensure a smooth passage for the transition to independence and democracy within two years.

Mr Vieira de Mello used the opportunity to attack pro-Indonesian militias and their supporters as having "lost touch with history".

To resounding applause from the audience of about 500 he said: "They are and will be made ever more irrelevant here and in Indonesia. They belong to the past when irrational violence and force of weapons, not arguments, prevailed. They were the bitter fruit of darkness, and they shall return to it."

The CNRT president, Mr Xanana Gusmao, appealed for national unity and support for a national agenda. He said unlike Indonesia, East Timor would pride itself on the quality of its democratic process.

"In the past Indonesia talked a lot about democracy and [political] partying. That is not how I want to do it. We will do it with quality," he said.

Nobel laureate and CNRT vice-president Mr Jose Ramos Horta said he had full confidence in Mr Gusmao's leadership.

"I believe the CNRT will change in its structure, become more lean, more functional, I hope rejuvenate to bring in a younger generation and that the political parties themselves take over the leadership of this process from now until independence," he said.

This was also a theme picked up by Dili's Bishop Carlos Belo, a co-Nobel laureate, who called for a more functional CNRT that was more relevant to new challenges.

"Timorese resistance? Who are we resisting?" he said. "We [the Catholic Church] support this congress and pray to God that we will hear fruitful thoughts and contributions for the wellbeing of East Timorese."

He also referred to recent attacks on UN peacekeepers by pro-Indonesian militias and indirectly accused Jakarta of continuing its support for them.

"If the militia come into East Timor, I ask, who is supporting the militia? Think that way, they'd better leave now," he said.

The US head of mission in Dili, Mr Gary Gray, said East Timor's democratic processes appeared to be on track. "We obviously want to see a strong commitment to the democratic process and constitution building and I think we're hearing that so far from all the key people," he said.

The congress opened in Dili's dilapidated stadium, spruced up for the occasion. In addition to 460 delegates from East Timor's 13 districts, guests included diplomats, aid agency representatives, the leaders of all eight main political parties, women's and youth groups, the Church and two senior commanders from the Falintil armed wing.

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