Subject: AFP: Timor on track for independence, but needs help: UNDP

Timor on track for independence, but still in need of help: UNDP

BANGKOK, March 19 (AFP) - East Timor is firmly on track to achieve full independence after August elections, but will remain in dire need of help to build a new nation, the UN Development Program (UNDP) said Monday.

"We have about 45 million dollars in development assistance, and we expect to increase our contribution dramatically this year," said UNDP resident representative in East Timor Finn Reske-Nielsen.

"There's still a tremendous need in the area of capacity-building as they introduce a new government and figure out how they're going to run it," he said on a visit to Bangkok.

Democratic elections will take place in the UN-administered territory on August 30, the second anniversary of the referendum in which four-fifths of East Timorese opted for independence from Indonesia.

The date was set by the chief UN administrator in East Timor, Sergio Vieira de Mello, who signed a regulation for the election of a constituent assembly in the capital Dili.

The assembly will be charged with preparing a constitution for an independent and democratic state within 90 days after convening in mid-September, Reske-Nielsen said.

"Most people expect there will be at least one other election to ensure independence, probably a presidential election. And the constitutional assembly would then transform itelf into the first parliament," he said.

Reske-Nielsen said that unless there are delays due to voter registration problems or in winning approval for the new constitution, East Timorese independence could become official late this year or early next year.

But apart from becoming a officially independent state, East Timor faces shortages of qualified citizens to staff the new government and run the country's fledgling public service.

"It's extremely difficult for the UN to fill senior positions in public service and technical positions because the human resources are not there," he said, noting that many East Timorese who fled the tiny country never returned.

"There's a serious problem of finding enough qualified people, and a lot of thinking is going into a possible successor mission," he said.

"In January the secretary-general indicated the need for a significant mission after independence for at least two to three years."

The UN will consider hiring expatriates to take up various posts in a newly independent East Timor, he said, noting that doctors and electrical engineers were two such professions that would be needed.

While the UN's peacekeeping operation continues to train local security forces, the UNDP plans to assist with voter education in the run-up to the election.

"East Timor has never experienced democracy. We need to educate the Timorese on what it means to have respect for other political views, and that it's okay to disagree," Reske-Nielsen said.

It could take as long as 25 years to establish local resources needed to run the country, he said.

After the 1999 referendum, anti-independence militias went a rampage throughout East Timor, forcing up to a third of its 800,000 people to flee into the neighbouring Indonesian province of West Timor.

The militias have continued to carry out cross-border attacks and to harass and intimidate tens of thousands of East Timorese still living in camps in West Timor.

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