GUSMÃO PRAISES “FRIENDLY AMBIENCE” AT JAKARTA TALKS
East Timor’s President-elect Xanana Gusmão today praised Indonesian President Megawati Soekarnoputri and other senior Indonesian officials for the “friendly ambience” with which he was received for meetings in Jakarta.
“In my talks with the President and other officials I met, we had agreed that we should start building the foundation of a new relationship based on mutual trust and confidence, and in pursuit of our common interests and objectives in the new context,” Gusmão said in a statement released today.
“The President in particular appreciated the progress that has been registered under the aegis of UNTAET on issues of concern to both Indonesia and East Timor and expressed the desire to resolving pending issues further in a spirit of understanding and cooperation,” Gusmão’s statement added.
Gusmão presented Megawati and a range of other officials – including Minister for Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirajuda, Co-ordinating Minister for Politics and Security Bambang Yudhoyono, and former Foreign Minister Ali Alatas – with invitations to East Timor’s 19-20 May independence celebrations.
Gusmão today left Jakarta for the Indonesian island of South Sulawesi for a series of meetings aimed at encouraging some 1,000 refugees based there to return to East Timor.
In related news, UNHCR officials in Dili today announced that more than 6,000 refugees returned to East Timor last month, the highest monthly return since March 2000.
A total of 204,292 refugees have returned to East Timor from camps in West Timor since late 1999.
UNHCR officials attribute the recent upsurge in returns to factors including Gusmão’s visit to Atambua, West Timor, in early April; the outcome of the 14 April presidential election; and the excitement surrounding the upcoming independence celebrations.
COUNCIL OF MINISTERS APPROVES 2002-2003 BUDGET
East Timor’s Council of Ministers today approved a US$77 million proposed budget to cover government activities over the 2002-2003 fiscal year.
The budget, which will be presented at the 14-15 May Donor’s Conference in Dili, consists of a core budget of US$68 million plus a supplementary request covering secondary priorities totalling US$9 million.
The proposal approved today anticipates that the Government will raise US$42 million in revenue from the Timor Sea Arrangement and from taxes and other revenues within East Timor proper over the course of 2002-2003, and will need donor funding to cover the budget shortfall.
Major portions of the proposed budget will be allocated to the Education, Health, and Public Works sectors, and will also fund payment of services currently provided by UNTAET to the East Timor Public Administration that will no longer be provided after East Timor’s 20 May independence.
SRSG PRAISES TIMORESE PRESS ON WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY
UN Transitional Administrator Sergio Vieira de Mello congratulated East Timorese journalists today for their growth from resistance activism to an inquisitive and independent press corps as the soon-to-be-independent nation observed World Press Freedom Day.
During a speech that preceded a televised debate on the media, Vieira de Mello urged the local media to continue to mature as responsible news providers and watchdogs against corruption, human rights violations and injustice.
“In only 17 days, East Timor gains its independence. It is when this country’s experiment in democracy really begins,” said Vieira de Mello, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative in East Timor. “For democracy to truly flourish, an independent, pluralistic and free press is essential. This is the time when the Timorese people are looking to you to keep them informed, to air a plurality of voices and to ensure that there is full transparency in the processes of government.”
The SRSG paid tribute to East Timorese and foreign journalists who were killed while covering East Timor’s struggle for independence. He also saluted the Constituent Assembly – the popularly elected legislative body that will become the National Parliament on 20 May – for enshrining press freedom in the Constitution.
The following debate centred around a Public Broadcast Regulation that has been approved by East Timor’s Council of Ministers and the Assembly, and is expected to be signed into force soon by Vieira de Mello.
The regulation calls for the creation of an independent Public Broadcasting Service to take the place of TVTL and Radio UNTAET after 20 May, when UN administration ends and East Timor gains full statehood.
Assembly member António Cardoso described the media as an important tool of development, and he pledged that the legislature would work to protect the independence of the media.