EAST TIMOR VOTE COUNT BEGINS FOLLOWING SMOOTH ELECTION
One day after a roundly successful election, UN electoral officials began counting ballots today that will determine who will become the first democratically chosen President of an independent East Timor.
An estimated 86.3 per cent of East Timor’s 439,000 eligible voters went to the polls Sunday, 14 April, during a remarkably smooth balloting process. The post-polling process has so far also been problem-free, election chief Carlos Valenzuela said this afternoon at a press conference.
“At this point, the electoral process is continuing as scheduled without any problems,” said Valenzuela, the Chief Electoral Officer of UNTAET’s Independent Electoral Commission. “Parties were to file any complaints regarding polling by noon today. We so far have no word of any party complaints having been filed by the deadline.”
All 13 district counting centres opened this morning and began the first phase of the counting process, ensuring that the number of ballots issued at each polling station matches the number found in that station’s ballot box.
Four ballot boxes out of a total of 933 were found to have broken seals when they arrived at the counting centres. Each seal was believed to have inadvertently broken during transport, and foul play was not suspected, Valenzuela said.
Many districts were expected to begin sorting and counting the ballots by the end of the day. Counting is scheduled to continue tomorrow, ahead of the expected announcement of the final result on Wednesday, 17 April.
Two candidates – Legislative Assembly Vice President Francisco Xavier do Amaral and independence leader Xanana Gusmão – contested the election, the third and last run by the United Nations during the former Portuguese colony’s UN-shepherded transition to independence.
The president is the last fundamental piece of the East Timor government to put in place before UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan declares the territory independent during a ceremony in the capital, Dili, on 20 May.
PAKISTANI BATTALION HANDS OVER COMMAND TO JAPAN
The Pakistan Engineers Battalion officially handed over responsibility to the Japanese Engineering Group (JEG) at a ceremony held today in the border district of Suai.
Peacekeeping Force Commander Lieutenant General Winai Phattiyakul, FDTL Commander Brigadier General Taur Matan Ruak, Japanese Contingent Commander
Colonel Ogawa and Pakistan National Contingent Commander Colonel Javed Ashraf Bajwa were among those who attended the ceremony.
The ceremony was marked by Pakistan traditional dances and music. Later the two battalions exchanged flags and the Japanese flag was raised as Japanese anthem played.
Colonel Javed Ashraf Bajwa said he was sure the Japanese engineers would continue to build upon the achievements of the Pakistani troops.
“As we hand over responsibility to the Japanese Battalion, I am sure operational support to PKF troops will be fully enhanced,” the Pakistani colonel said. “The Japanese battalion has immense potential to contribute towards the development of East Timor,” he added.
The Pakistan Engineers Battalion arrived in Suai in April 2000. More than 1,100 soldiers have since served in camps in Suai, Maliana, Ainaro and Dili districts. The battalion will complete its withdrawal from East Timor next month as part of UNTAET’s overall downsizing strategy.