Subject: AP: E. Timor formally asks UN for independence May 20

Also: Interview with Alkatiri

E. Timor formally asks UN for independence May 20

By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 22 (Reuters) - East Timor's newly elected constituent assembly asked the United Nations on Monday to grant it independence next May 20, paving the way for a reduction of U.N. military and civilian forces.

The world body has been administering the territory since 1998 after residents voted overwhelmingly to break from Indonesia, which invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975.

The president of the East Timor Constituent Assembly, Francisco Guterres, signed a resolution on Monday asking the United Nations to "hand over sovereignty to elected Timorese government institutions on May 20, 2002," U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to approve the date by the end of the month.

In the East Timor capital of Dili, the 88-member assembly, which will form the country's new parliament, selected the date because it is the 28th anniversary of the founding of East Timor's first political party, the Timorese Social Democratic Association.

That group gave rise to Fretilin, the guerrilla movement against Indonesian rule and now the territory's largest party. Fretilin won 55 assembly seats elections held on Aug. 30, second anniversary of the independence vote.

In a separate report, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the nearly 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers would be cut to 5,000 by independence. The 550 international staff and 600 U.N. volunteers have already been decreased and would be reduced by some 75 percent by next May.

But Annan did not say how many soldiers and staff would remain after independence, saying it depended on progress in local institutions.

The United Nations, he said, had identified some "100 core functions for which local expertise does not exist but which are essential to the stability and functioning" of the country's new government.

Under pressure from the United States and France to cut costs, Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N. administrator for East Timor, warned the Security Council last July that any reduction of soldiers had to be gradual or the world body would put in jeopardy "the enormous investment it has been made so far."

After the August 1998 independence election, pro-Jakarta militia, organized by the Indonesian army, went on the rampage, killing, looting and burning buildings to the ground. Australian troops stopped the carnage before U.N. peacekeepers arrived.

Many militia, now in Indonesian West Timor on the other half of the island, could continue to be a security threat.


BBC Worldwide Monitoring

October 20, 2001, Saturday

East Timor sets 20 May 2002 for proclamation of independence

RDP Antena 1 radio, Lisbon, in Portuguese 0900 gmt 20 Oct 01

East Timor's Constituent Assembly has voted to proclaim the territory's independence on 20 May 2002, Portuguese radio reported on Saturday 20 October .

"From then on the Timorese will have sovereign powers and will make their own strategic decisions," Interim Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said in remarks broadcast by the radio. "At the moment the sovereignty lies with the United Nations, but in practical terms the UN is in no position to make decisions on strategic issues, because it is an interim administration."

"There are other areas regarded as strategic," he added, "like mining and oil exploitation, as well as communications, in which only an independent state can map out a policy."

Mr Alkatiri explained the choice of date by recalling that the Timorese Association of Social Democrats, from which Fretilin, the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, later sprung, was founded on 20 May 1974.



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