Subject: Indian ambassador to head UN East Timor operation

Indian ambassador to head UN East Timor operation

UNITED NATIONS, April 4 (Reuters) - India's U.N. ambassador was named on Thursday by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to head the United Nations operation in East Timor after the former Portuguese colony achieves independence next month.

Ambassador Kamalesh Sharma replaces Sergio Vieria de Mello, a career U.N. official from Brazil, who has led the U.N. mission since the world body took over administration of the territory in late 1999, several months after residents voted for independence from Indonesia.

De Mello is one of several candidates tipped to succeed Mary Robinson, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, who leaves her post in September.

Sharma assumes his post on May 21, a day before [poster: actually a day after] East Timor becomes independent, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said. The United Nations will keep some peacekeepers as well as other officials in East Timor after independence to guard against pro-Jakarta gunmen who scorched the territory after an August 1999 independence referendum.

Sharma, a career Indonesian foreign service officer, belongs to several foreign policy groups in the United States and has headed India's U.N. mission since July 1997.

He recently edited an unusual book of poetry, which included contributions from U.N. diplomats and officials, entitled, "Mille Fleurs: Poetry from Around the World."

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