Subject: UN apologizes for not preventing E.Timor violence

UN apologizes for not preventing E.Timor violence

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 30 (Reuters) - The top U.N. official in East Timor apologised on Thursday for the United Nations' failure to prevent the violence that engulfed the territory after an Aug. 30 independence vote, a U.N. spokesman said.

Sergio Vieira de Mello, head of the U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), offered the apology during a visit to the coffee-growing district of Ermera, southwest of the capital Dili, accompanied by independence leader Xanana Gusmao.

Pro-Jakarta militias went on a rampage of killing and destruction after it was announced that nearly 80 percent of voters favoured independence from Indonesia, which invaded the the former Portuguese colony in 1975 and later annexed it.

Referring to the failure of the world body to predict and prevent the violence, Vieira de Mello told a crowd of about 5,000: ``For that I ask forgiveness from the people of East Timor.

``I am not ashamed to ask you to forgive us. I would be ashamed not to acknowledge what happened,'' he added, according to the U.N. spokesman.

``To deserve the generosity and hospitality of the Timorese people, we have to acknowledge our mistakes and shortcomings,'' Vieira de Mello said. ``We are going to make East Timor an example of democracy, tolerance and justice.''

UNTAET is helping lead the territory to independence in an operation expected to take two to three years.

An Australian-led international force sent to East Timor as an interim measure in September to quell the violence is due to be replaced by U.N. peacekeepers in February.

The United Nations announced on Wednesday that its force would be commanded by Maj.-Gen. Jaime de los Santos of the Philippines. He is to be promoted to lieutenant-general for the assignment. Maj.-Gen. Michael Geoffrey Smith of Australia will be the deputy force commander.

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