ACTIVITIES OF SECRETARY-GENERAL IN EAST TIMOR, 19-20 MAY
Secretary-General Kofi Annan arrived in Dili early in the afternoon of Sunday, 19 May. Upon arrival, at a press encounter, he pledged that the United Nations would remain deeply committed to East Timor after the fledgling nation's independence.
He told the media, “For us, this is not the end of the road, we are not saying goodbye. It’s a new beginning, and we will be here to work with the Government”.
Prior to that evening’s independence ceremony, the Secretary-General held several bilateral meetings, with Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Lafer. Representatives of more than 90 countries were in Dili to attend the independence event, including Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, and former United States President Bill Clinton.
That night, tens of thousands of East Timorese gathered at a massive site near the capital Dili to celebrate the birth of their new nation.
In a speech during the final minutes of the United Nations two-and-a-half-year Transitional Administration, Kofi Annan told the gathered crowd, "Your identity as an independent people will be recognized by the whole world. I still recall the day, forty-five years ago, when my own country Ghana attained its independence . Tonight, I am as excited as I was then.
"At this moment, we honour every citizen of East Timor who persisted in the struggle for independence. We also remember the many who are no longer with us -- but who dreamed of this moment. It is their day, too", the Secretary-General added. (See Press Release SG/SM/8243.)
Proceedings at Taci Tolu, on the outskirts of Dili, began at 6 p.m. with a three-hour Mass presided over by Dili Bishop Filipe Ximenes Belo. The Mass was followed by an array of elaborate cultural events.
After the Secretary-General’s speech, as midnight struck, the United Nations flag was lowered while singer Barbara Hendricks sang a song dedicated to freedom. Six former members of Falintil then carried the East Timorese flag to the stage and presented it to members of the new East Timor Defence Force (ETDF).
The ETDF raised the flag after Parliament President Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres declared East Timor's birth as an independent nation. Lu-Olo then proceeded to swear in Xanana Gusmão as East Timor's new President.
Gusmão -- the landslide winner of the 14 April presidential election -- then gave an emotional address to his nation.
"Today we are a people standing on equal footing with all other people in the world. On the celebration of independence, we wish to take upon ourselves this commitment before you: to work solely and exclusively for our people", Gusmão said.
"East Timor is the poorest country in Asia and we wish to raise, gradually but steadily, the quality of life of our population. Our independence will have no value if all the people in [East Timor] continue to live in poverty and continue to suffer all kinds of difficulties. We gained our independence to improve our lives", the President added.
Later on Monday morning the Government of East Timor was sworn in, and the National Parliament -- elected in August 2001 to draft a Constitution -- held its inaugural session. The Parliament immediately adopted a resolution seeking United Nations membership. The Secretary-General told the Parliament at its first session that he would be honoured to pass its resolution on to the Security Council, adding that, in light of the support he had witnessed, “I do not anticipate any obstacle to your membership”.
Also in the morning, the Secretary-General dedicated the new United Nations House in Dili, saying, “Now that independence is achieved, the challenge of nation-building remains”.
He then departed for the airport, to return to New York via Singapore and London. Upon arrival at his Singapore hotel, he was welcomed by that country’s Deputy Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong.
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