Subject: SMH: Sour note hit as East Timor election campaign begins

Sydney Morning Herald July 16, 2001

Sour note hit as East Timor election campaign begins

By Mark Dodd, Herald Correspondent in Dili

Campaigning for East Timor's first democratic elections began at the weekend, but hopes for a smooth start were marred by a strike and the seizure of a consignment of military uniforms sent from Indonesia.

Two-hundred camouflage tunics for the ASDT party were confiscated from a Merpati airlines flight that arrived from Indonesia earlier in the week, according to a senior United Nations official in Dili.

The seizure comes amid reports that some political activists are engaged in quasi-military training, such as marching, according to UN security sources.

The ASDT, the Timorese Association of Social Democrats, which was launched this year, is a left-leaning 1974-era political party that is a breakaway faction of Fretilin.

An East Timor independence leader, Mr Jose Ramos Horta, said the seizure of military clothing was a breach of the Pact of National Unity signed by 14 of the 16 political parties competing in the ballot.

"The national pact says no assistance from any foreign country, so this is a bad sign. This is a serious development which Mr [Francisco] Xavier do Amaral [the ASDT leader] will have to explain to the people of this country."

And throwing into chaos plans to broadcast the opening of political campaigning, East Timorese employees at the UN's Radio UNTAET and TV Timor Lorosa'e went on strike on Friday for longer contracts and better pay.

Meanwhile, several prominent political parties hit the election trail yesterday.

In the shell of a primary school torched by anti-independence militias in 1999, East Timor's oldest political party, the Timorese Democratic Union, launched its campaign. Its leader, the veteran politician Mr Joao Carrascalao, told a crowd of about 50 that providing social justice for East Timorese would be a major campaign pledge. His party expected strong support from rural constituents, he said.

One election favourite, Fretilin, opened its campaign yesterday at a rally attended by about 3,000, and another, the ASDT, was due to launch its campaign in the mountain town of Aileu, 50 kilometres south of Dili.

The August 30 elections, to be held on the second anniversary of the referendum to end 24 years of Indonesian rule, will vote for a 88-seat constituent assembly. The assembly must adopt a constitution within 90 days of its first meeting.

In other milestones on the road to independence, East Timor's de facto parliament, the National Council, was dissolved on Saturday after debating 28 pieces of legislation in the past nine months.

Australia's Opposition spokesman on foreign affairs, Mr Laurie Brereton, who was sitting in as an observer, said: "The mark of its success is the manner in which it was wound up today in order that East Timor can move to the next phase. The optimism I have found here for the campaign augurs well for a democratic future."

The head of the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor, Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello, said the work of the council would have a long-lasting impact on the democratic development of the world's newest country.

"It was here that regulations on the budget for this fiscal year, the East Timor defence force, the East Timor police service, a prison service and a legal aid service were all considered in great deal, amended and then approved by you," he said.

On Saturday representatives of East Timor's political parties joined in an all-party soccer team against a joint UN-Timorese team. Cheered on by a crowd of 5,000, the independence leader Mr Xanana Gusmao played goalkeeper in the nil-all game.

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