Subject: SMH: East Timor gets ready for tricky birth

Sydney Morning Herald December 13, 2000

Newest nation gets ready for tricky birth

Photo: Be prepared ... Xanana Gusmao.

By Mark Dodd, Herald Correspondent in Dili

East Timor's 24-year struggle for independence from Indonesia might be over but the job now will be agreeing on how to run the world's newest country.

Yesterday the 36-member National Council, the country's de facto parliament, listened as independence leader Mr Xanana Gusmao presented a nine-point timetable for the United Nations transitional administration to hand over power, probably next year.

Mr Gusmao said the council should prepare to debate issues that will determine the future of East Timor's democracy.

Elections for a Constituent Assembly are tentatively scheduled for August but other major political hurdles have to be cleared first.

A national registration of all eligible East Timorese voters has to be undertaken, no easy job after the trauma of last year's mass deportations ordered by retreating Indonesian troops and integrationist militias.

The voting rights of about 100,000 East Timorese still living in West Timor needs to be sorted out. Then comes a law on the formation of political parties and a national education campaign to explain to East Timorese who the various political parties are and why they are voting in another election.

East Timor will need a new Constitution, an issue that will require consultation among the entire population.

One National Council member, Mr Anicetto Guterres, said he felt the UN transitional phase had been going on for too long, was neither efficient nor popular, and should be terminated quickly.

Another member, Father Jose Antonio da Costa, warned against a headlong rush to independence and reminded members that East Timor's public service was under strength and there was a shortage of skilled administrators.

The country is experiencing rising social unrest. Widespread unemployment, especially among the young, is a big concern for East Timor's leaders.

Allegations of official corruption in relation to the disbursement of donor funds are being investigated by the UN.

Security also remains a worry. An Australian soldier, Private Christopher Carter, suffered minor injuries on Monday in a grenade attack at Aida Belaten, 45 kilometres from the border with West Timor. It was the second suspected militia ambush in the past two weeks.

On December 1 Australian Signalman Scott Shepherd was shot in the leg near Balibo, close to the border. Australian peace-keepers shot dead a suspected militiaman the following day.

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