Subject: U.N. Committed To E Timor Peacekeeping During Elections

U.N. Committed To E Timor Peacekeeping During Elections

DILI (AP, March 2, 2001)--The U.N. said Friday that it is committed to peacekeeping in East Timor during the country's first independent elections scheduled for later this year.

"Troops will provide a measure of assurance during the elections to ensure they happen without disturbance," said visiting U.N peacekeeping official Jean-Marie Guehenno.

Although no date has been set for the polls, officials have suggested they could be held on Aug. 30, leading to the country's full independence early next year.

The date is the second anniversary of a U.N.-sponsored independence ballot that saw the tiny half-island territory secede from Indonesia, which had occupied it since 1975.

Hundreds of people died and much of East Timor was destroyed when the Indonesian army and its local auxiliaries went on a rampage following the 1999 referendum. The U.N. is currently administering East Timor during its transition to full independence.

Guehenno said the world body could also provide troops after the elections if East Timor wanted them. However, he warned that long-term stability in the country depended on good relations with Indonesia.

There are 7,500 international peacekeepers stationed in East Timor. The bulk of them are deployed close to the border with Indonesian West Timor.

Also Friday, the Royal Australian Air Force handed over management of the airport in the capital city of Dili to civilian contractors from Portugal.

The force has controlled the airport since the arrival of international troops to the territory, handling some 17,000 flights and 200,000 passengers.

Meanwhile, registration of East Timor's population began this week with a pilot project on the island of Atauro, 40 kilometers off the coast of Dili.

The project was designed to test German government donated computer equipment and software developed to provide East Timorese with identity cards and to compile a list of registered voters.

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