Subject: AFP: UN delegation declares East Timor ready for independence

UN delegation declares East Timor ready for independence by Bronwyn Curran

DILI, East Timor, Nov 14 (AFP) - UN Security Council envoys wrapped up a two-day mission to East Timor Tuesday, concluding that it was ready for independence but in dire need of international support.

"The continued support of the international community is crucial," the delegation's chief, ambassador Martin Andjaba of Namibia, told a news conference before leaving for Indonesian-ruled West Timor.

But he praised progress in the UN-administered territory. "Our assessment here is that the people of East Timor are ready for independence," he declared.

"We're highly inspired by the remarkable achievements in East Timor," he added, lauding the efforts of the UN's chief administrator here, Sergio Viera de Mello.

Andjaba conceded the mission had observed "problems here and there," but concluded they were not "impediments" to the territory's transition to self-rule.

The delegation heard complaints of chronic underfunding for reconstruction, and inadequate resources for the justice system during intensive briefings Sunday and Monday with East Timorese and UN administrators.

The UN administrator in the southern Covalima district on Monday told the envoys that lack of resources for investigators in the devastated town of Suai had resulted in three confessed killers and rapists being set free.

Suai community leaders also complained in an open forum with the delegation that people they believed responsible for massacring possibly hundreds of refugees in their cathedral on September last year, were living freely in the community.

"I think this is clear, there are limitations," Andjaba said when pressed on the justice problems.

"As I said at the beginning the administrators will not be in a position to administer everything successfully.

"So what is required now is for the international community to support the efforts here, so that all the things are done here successfully, including the administration of justice," he said.

Andjaba cited the recent establishment of an interim East Timorese cabinet and National Council, headed by independence leader Xanana Gusmao, as "important steps in the process of transition."

However, he declined to name a timetable for the territory's first elections, although de Mello and some East Timorese leaders have nominated August 2001 as a target date.

Andjaba would only say: "The time has come for them to get their independence."

Critics say next August would be premature, as the territory has yet to draw up a constitution and build a political system.

Complaints of an 85 million dollar shortfall in funds to rehabilitate infrastrucutre and basic services were put to the delegation by the cabinet's member for infrastructure, Joao Carrascalao.

Construction funding complaints were also made by Suai community leaders, who said the pace of rebuilding their town, which was virtually razed to the ground, was too slow.

The Security Council's British ambassador, Stewart Eldon, responded by promising more funds once security had been fully restored and after independence.

"We all know that not as much money is being spent on infrastructure and development as many of us would like," he told the Suai leaders on Monday.

"As soon as the problems of security can be resolved, there will be more resources to spend on development.

"After independence there'll be a whole array of mechanisms designed to help you get the assistance you need."

The delegation was to begin the Indonesian leg of its mission Tuesday in the West Timor capital of Kupang, where it will check on Indonesia's progress in disarming and disbanding anti-independence militia and prosecuting the killers of three UN refugee workers two months ago.

The Security Council team has said the repatriation of refugees from camps in West Timor is its top priority.

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