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E. Timor Independence Date Backed

November 01, 2001|Reuters

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday endorsed the May 20 date that East Timorese set for independence and said about 5,000 peacekeepers and other U.N. personnel will stay in the territory until then.

The council, in a formal statement, agreed to maintain soldiers, civilians and police trainers in East Timor from six months to two years after independence.

However, during an all-day debate chaired by Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen, some members weighed how much cash would be available after May 20 for the current complement of U.N. personnel.

East Timor has been under U.N. administration since late 1999, following 24 years of Indonesian occupation, preceded by four centuries of Portuguese colonial rule.

An August 1999 U.N.-organized independence vote resulted in a scorched-earth campaign by pro-Indonesia militias that left East Timor in ruins. Australian troops halted the rampage.

Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N. administrator in East Timor, pleaded for the council to stand by the territory for some time after independence, particularly in funding about 100 U.N. technical staff.

He said presidential elections were expected to be held in March or April and acknowledged that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the United States and the subsequent war in Afghanistan might divert funds from East Timor.

Mari Alkatiri, chief minister of East Timor's recently elected assembly, said his country needs U.N. funds as well as bilateral and World Bank aid to build a viable administration for the impoverished nation.

With unemployment up to 80%, he said, "it is critical that we create the necessary conditions to stimulate domestic private-sector activity and attract sound foreign investment."

U.S. envoy James Cunningham stressed that the United Nations must get its Security Council-financed East Timor mission down to "zero or near zero" by mid-2004.

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