UN ELECTORAL CHIEF SETS STAGE FOR PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
The candidates are on the campaign trail, polling staff are ready and the stage is nearly set for East Timor’s first presidential election, UNTAET’s election chief announced today, nine days before the poll.
Carlos Valenzuela, Chief Electoral Officer of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), told a press conference that election preparations – including polling staff training, voter education, materials and plans – are all on schedule for the 14 April polling day.
The presidential election will be the third UN-run ballot in East Timor, and the last before the former colony celebrates its birth as an independent nation on 20 May. Drawing on the past polls, the IEC and the UN Development Programme have just completed a lexicon of election terminology in Tetum, the lingua franca of the territory.
“One of the most important requirements for creating a democratic culture is being able to express the many concepts involved in democracy and elections in a language that the majority of the people understand,” Valenzuela said.
Two candidates are on the ballot for president: Francisco Xavier do Amaral, a Deputy President of the Legislative Assembly, and independence leader Xanana Gusmão. Both are busy criss-crossing the territory before the campaign period ends on 12 April.
Election preparations have been at full pace for several months. About 5,280 electoral staff have been trained in the proper procedures for a free-and-fair poll; IEC staff and UN-run television and radio canvassed the territory with voter education materials; and 107 observer groups – both national and international – have registered to participate in polling day.
The emphasis on this election has been on the “Timorisation” of the process. Unlike the previous two polls – the 1999 Popular Consultation on the future of the territory and the 2001 Constituent Assembly election – East Timorese hold a majority of seats on the IEC Board, control all 13 district electoral offices and will participate in the counting of the ballots.
The IEC has estimated the number of eligible voters at roughly 430,000 people. The number is based on the voter roll for the Constituent Assembly election, plus people who have been added to the national Civil Registry and those who have turned 17 since the Assembly election, minus those who may have died or left East Timor since August 2001.
During the Assembly election, 91 per cent of East Timor’s eligible voters cast a ballot.
RISE IN REFUGEE RETURNS CONTINUES AFTER RECORD MONTH
Nearly 2,000 refugees have already returned to East Timor from refugee camps in West Timor, Indonesia, during the first five days of this month, UN refugee officials said today.
The East Timor office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) attributes the current upsurge in returns – nearly 4,000 came back last month, the highest monthly total in two years – to East Timor’s upcoming presidential elections and independence celebrations.
UNHCR has also received unconfirmed reports from its counterparts in Indonesia that as many as 2,000 more refugees may return next week.
The impetus for refugees to return in the coming weeks was likely increased on 4 April when independence leader and presidential candidate Xanana Gusmão crossed the border in a UNHCR convoy and addressed mass meetings of refugees and their leaders in Atambua and Kefa, West Timor. The meetings were attended by more than 10,000 refugees.
During the meetings, Gusmão handed out 4,000 hand-written postcards from the people of East Timor encouraging their compatriots in the refugee community to return.
Prior to the meeting in Atambua, Gusmão and Robert Ashe, head of the UNHCR-East Timor, met with TNI regional commander, Major General William da Costa. They all placed wreaths at a former UNHCR office where three UNHCR staff members were murdered by a mob of militiamen in September 2000.
The total number of repatriated East Timorese refugees since October 1999 is now close to 200,000, and UNHCR estimates there are less than 60,000 refugees remaining in the camps across the border.
SEMINAR PLANNED FOR LIQUICA MASSACRE ANNIVERSARY
A seminar on the balance between justice and reconciliation and a wreath-laying ceremony will be held tomorrow, 6 April, to mark the third anniversary of the Liquica Church massacre, UNTAET announced today.
The one-day seminar – titled “Justice and the Process of Reconciliation” – has been organised by local NGOs and the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation.
Among the speakers at the seminar will be: the Director of UNTAET’s Human Rights Unit Patrick Burgess; East Timor’s Prosecutor General Longuinhos Monteiro; Truth Commission Director Aniceto Guterres Lopes; and Manuela Leong Pereira, Director of the women’s NGO Fokupers.
Dozens were killed on 6 April 1999 at Liquica’s main church when pro-autonomy militiamen allegedly threw tear-gas canisters inside during a Sunday mass and attacked the fleeing worshipers with guns and machetes as they fled.
A special mass will be held tomorrow at the St. João de Brito Church and a wreath-laying ceremony will be held afterward at the massacre site.
INDIAN DIPLOMAT APPOINTED TO LEAD UN SUCCESSOR MISSION
A senior diplomat from India, Kamalesh Sharma, has been appointed to lead the United Nations mission that will succeed UNTAET after East Timor gains independence on 20 May, the UN Secretary-General’s Spokesman in New York announced Thursday.
Ambassador Sharma, the current Permanent Representative of India to the UN in New York, will succeed Sergio Vieira de Mello on 21 May as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative in East Timor.
In a letter addressed to the President of the Security Council released at UN Headquarters in New York, the Secretary-General expresses his “sincere appreciation for [Mr. Vieira de Mello's] exceptional leadership of UNTAET.”