1ST ANNIVERSARY OF DEFENCE FORCE CELEBRATED IN LOSPALOS
UN Peacekeeping Force Commander Winai Phattiyakul led an UNTAET delegation to the eastern district of Lospalos today to attend celebrations marking the first anniversary of the creation of the East Timor Defence Force (ETDF).
The festivities, held at the former Republic of Korea battalion headquarters where 450 ETDF soldiers are completing training, included a display of the troops' combat training and performances of traditional East Timorese songs and dances by members of the local community.
One year ago, the East Timorese freedom-fighting force FALINTIL was officially disbanded and the ETDF launched in an emotional ceremony that marked a major milestone in the transition to independence.
``While this is just the first anniversary, the soldiers of the ETDF are directly linked to FALINTIL and its long tradition of service to the Timorese people,'' Acting SRSG Dennis McNamara said in statement read to the troops by UNTAET Head of Political Affairs Colin Stewart. ``We are sure that ETDF will carry on with that spirit and we wish them every success in the challenging years ahead.''
ETDF Col. Lere Anan Timur urged his soldiers to remain disciplined and respectful to the people of East Timor, and Commander Winai made an official inspection of their ranks.
The first 600-member ETDF battalion is expected to be fully deployed in Lospalos within a few months. An additional group of 261 trainees were recently recruited to form a second battalion.
The ETDF will eventually consist of a light infantry force of 1,500 regulars to be recruited and trained over a three-year period. UN peacekeepers will slowly hand over control of the country to the defence force over that time period.
NOMINATION OF PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES TO BEGIN MONDAY
The Chief Electoral Officer of the Independent Electoral Commission, Carlos Valenzuela, today outlined the steps being taken to organize East Timor's presidential election scheduled for 14 April.
Valenzuela's statement, delivered at a press conference in Dili, was as follows:
"The first presidential election - the last important step towards an Independent and Democratic East Timor - is only 10 weeks away. After the Constituent Assembly motion on 28 November 2001 calling for presidential elections, a draft Electoral Regulation was prepared and presented to the Assembly, which referred the matter to the Special Legislative Commission. After serious study and debate, the Commission approved an amended draft on 5 January 2002. Two weeks later, on 16 January, the Transitional Administrator signed the Regulation and, the following day in this same conference room, promulgated the Regulation and announced 14 April 2002 as the date for the election of the president.
"As the Transitional Administrator explained on that day, the main points of the Electoral Regulation are that there will be an election for the president by popular vote, universal adult suffrage, and a secret ballot; there will be a single national constituency; and the president will be elected by simple majority, that is, the candidate who receives the most votes will become the first president of an independent and democratic East Timor. Furthermore, the Regulation confirms that the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) remains the sole authority responsible for the election.
"At this point, I am able to announce that all IEC headquarters staff, all staff in the 13 IEC district offices, and 300 district electoral officers will be in place by next week. The process of "Timorization" within the IEC is well advanced. For example, for this election, the majority of the 5-person Board of Commissioners will be East Timorese, as are approximately one-third of the IEC's headquarters staff. Perhaps more significantly, for the first time in a UN electoral operation, all the district electoral coordinators and deputy coordinators are East Timorese. Half of the 300 district electoral officers are also East Timorese.
"Political parties and candidates will now begin to take centre stage. From next Monday, 4 February, until Saturday, 23 February, the IEC will receive applications for the registration of new political parties and the nomination of candidates. The 16 parties that registered with the IEC to participate in the Constituent Assembly Election do not need to register again, and each of them can, if they wish, nominate one candidate for this election. New parties can apply for registration in order to present a candidate. As we have indicated on other occasions, the electoral regulation permits an individual to be nominated by more than one party. Individuals can also seek election as independent candidates.
"The procedures, the requirements, the forms for application, and the election calendar have already been given to all political party representatives, and copies of all these documents will be distributed after this briefing. Individuals interested in running as independent candidates should visit the headquarters of the IEC to obtain all the necessary information and materials.
"The people of East Timor must be prepared for their role on centre stage on Election Day, and the IEC will be carrying out an intensive public information campaign between now and then. There are a few key points that I would like to highlight at this point.
"The voter eligibility criteria are the same as they were for the popular consultation and for the Constituent Assembly election: to be a habitual resident of East Timor, and to be at least 17 years old, in this case by 14 April.
"In order to actually vote on Election Day, eligible voters must present proof of registration with the Civil Registry at the polling station on election day. Polling stations will only be located in East Timor.
"People who are not yet registered can go to the Civil Registration offices in their district and register. This includes refugees who return to East Timor. If anyone has lost or damaged their proof of registration, they should go to the Civil Registration office and ask for a Confirmation of Registration, which they can present at the polling station on Election Day.
"In response to the complaints in August 2001 over the distance some people had to walk and the time they had to queue to cast their votes, the IEC has added polling stations in both remote and heavily populated areas for this presidential election. Additionally, there is no voter roll for this election, meaning that people can vote at any polling station in East Timor. We expect that lines will be shorter and will move more smoothly as a result.
"The preparations for this election are well underway. Now, as we enter an important phase of this process, we ask you, the media, to help us keep the voters informed.