Subject: BBC: Gusmao 'agrees' date for independence

Briritsh Broadcasting Corporation October 29, 2001

Gusmao 'agrees' date for independence

Photo: Former guerrillas are being trained to assume a defence role

Xanana Gusmao, the man widely expected to become East Timor's first elected president next year, has reluctantly accepted a date of 20 May for the territory to assume formal independence reports say.

Mr Gusmao said the date, chosen by the recently elected 88-member constituent assembly, introduces party-political bias.

Next year, 20 May will mark the 28th anniversary of the founding of East Timor's first political party, the Social democratic Timorese Association, which later gave rise to Fretilin, now the territory¿s dominant political party.

Photo: Jose Ramos-Horta says he is confident of continuing UN support

Mr Gusmao has said he would prefer the United Nations administration currently running East Timor to handover on 5 May - the anniversary of the signing of a UN agreement which paved the way to ending Indonesian rule.

Reuters news agency quoted him as saying in a radio interview: "It [20 May] is too biased in terms of party politics."

But he also said that having been decided by the constituent assembly, he would accept the date.

The UN Security Council is expected this week to consider its post-independence commitment to East Timor.

Currently it has about 800 civilian personnel and 8,000 peacekeepers in the territory. East Timor's Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta said on Monday he was confident the UN would continue to provide significant support.

Shortly after returning from talks in the US and France he said: "East Timor... should not be undermined by an early withdrawal or considerations about cutting expenses."

East Timorese officials hope the UN's civilian staff will remain about 100-strong with a peacekeeping force of about 5,000.

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