Dili, 18 January 2002

ASSEMBLY PASSES MOTION TO EXTEND CONSTITUTIONAL DEBATE

East Timorís Constituent Assembly passed a motion today to extend its deliberations on the draft Constitution beyond the current 25 January deadline.

A proposal was made to extend the deadline to 28 February, but the motion passed did not specify a date. Instead, the new deadline will be debated by a working commission.

Seventy-four Assembly members voted in favour of the motion, five opposed the motion and three abstained.

The Assembly has now passed 129 articles of the 151-article draft Constitution.

The articles passed since Tuesday afternoon include:

Article 124, which creates an office of public prosecutors and defenders (Ministerio Publico), which will be accountable to the Attorney-General and must perform its duties objectively and impartially.

Article 125 creates the Office of the Attorney-General, the highest authority in public prosecution. The Attorney-General will be appointed by and accountable to the President of the Republic, and he or she will submit annual reports to Parliament. The Attorney-General will also request the Supreme Court of Justice to rule on any law deemed unconstitutional in three lower court cases.

Article 126 creates the Attorney Generalís Superior Council, a consultative body of the Attorney-General. It will comprise five members; one appointed by the President, one by the Government, two elected by the magistrates of the Public Prosecution from among their peers, and one elected by Parliament. Article 127 calls for lawyers to dispense legal and judicial aid to society. It urges lawyers to contribute to the proper administration of justice and to safeguard citizensí rights and legitimate interests. The activities of lawyers will be framed by law.

Article 128 guarantees the privacy of legal documents and stipulates that confidentiality must be guaranteed between lawyers and their clients, especially when clients are under detention or arrest in civil or military prisons.

Article 129 insists on a separation of powers between the offices of the President of the Republic; Speaker of the National Parliament; President of the Supreme Court of Justice; Prime Minister; the President of the High Administrative, Tax and Audit Court; Attorney-General, ministers, deputy ministers, provincial governors and secretaries of state. A new section (129a) says the public administration shall pursue the public interest.

Members also began debating the section of the Constitution that deals with the governmentís economic and financial organization. Article 130 says the country's economy will be a free market economy including public-sector, private-sector and cooperative ownership of the means of production.

All six articles were passed with significant majorities.

THAI DEPUTY DEFENSE MINISTER CONCLUDES OFFICIAL VISIT

Thailandís Deputy Defence Minister General Yuthasak Sasiprapa left Dili today after a 24-hour visit during which he met with senior Government, UNTAET and military officials and separately met with members of the Thai Battalion in Baucau district.

During his visit General Sasiprapa was briefed by Peacekeeping Force Commander Lieutenant General Winai Phattiyakul on UNTAETís military downsizing strategy, and thanked by SRSG Sergio Vieira de Mello for Thailandís consistent contribution to UNTAETís Peacekeeping Force.

JUSTICE DELEGATION RETURNS FROM TALKS WITH INDONESIA

A delegation of East Timorese justice officials today returned to Dili after two days of talks with their Indonesian counterparts in Denpasar, Indonesia.

The talks included an Indonesian briefing on developments relating to the recent creation of the ad-hoc tribunal to try those responsible for human rights violations in East Timor in 1999, as well as a briefing by the East Timor delegation on the status of ongoing investigations and prosecutions of serious crimes.

The two sides also discussed a format for the exchange of information on serious crimes cases and progress made to date by the Indonesians into the killings of Private Devi Ram Jaisi, a Nepalese peacekeeper, and Private Leonard Manning, a New Zealand Peacekeeper, both in mid-2000.

The delegation from East Timor included Prosecutor General Longuinhos Monteiro, Special Advisor to the Prosecutor General Mohamed Othman, and UNTAETís new Deputy Prosecutor and Head of Serious Crimes Unit, Mrs. Siri Frigaard.

The Indonesian delegation included Indonesian Attorney General Mohamad Abdurrahman and high-level members of his staff.

Participants at the meeting have agreed to hold the next round of talks in February, but have yet to determine an exact date or location.

COUNCIL OF MINISTERS HOLDS OPEN MEETING IN BOBONARO

An estimated 500 people turned out in Maliana, Bobonaro district yesterday for an open meeting of East Timorís Council of Ministers.

This was the fifth open meeting held by the Council outside the capital Dili as part of a plan to decentralize its activities and consult directly with local communities. Previous meetings have taken place in Baucau, LiquiÁa, Manatuto and Ermera districts.

The main themes discussed yesterday included agricultural issues, particularly: the need to improve the quality of local products and to facilitate their sale outside Bobonaro; concern over illegal cross-border trade by West Timorese; the ongoing campaign to ďdollariseĒ East Timorís economy; health assistance; justice; infrastructure; and education.

Senior Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Josť Ramos-Horta, who heads the Independence Day Celebration Committee, talked about the preparations underway for East Timorís independence festivities on 20 May.