AGENDA FOR TALKS WITH INDONESIA AND AUSTRALIA APPROVED
East Timor's Council of Ministers approved today the agendas for bilateral and trilateral talks scheduled to take place next week in Denpasar, Indonesia.
The agenda for the 25 February bilateral meeting between East Timor and Indonesia includes topics such as: the ownership of property that belonged to the Government of Indonesia and Indonesian citizens on August 1999; pensions for former Indonesian public servants and retirees; refugees; border demarcation; and cooperation in the cultural, education, banking and monetary sectors.
In addition, a discussions are expected on the establishment of postal links; regular trans-border movement and trade; and a protocol of cooperation between the police services of both countries.
The agenda for the 26 February trilateral meeting between East Timor, Australia and Indonesia includes issues of common interest for the three countries, in particular: security, cross-border crime and management of borders; repatriation of refugees; and economic and developmental cooperation and assistance.
The Council also decided that petroleum exploitation in the Timor Sea should not be part of the trilateral agenda.
The East Timor delegation will be led by Special Representative of the Secretary-General Sergio Vieira de Mello, and includes Chief Minister Marí Alkatiri, Foreign Minister José Ramos-Horta, Secretary of State for the Council of Ministers Gregório de Sousa and the Government Advisor on Human Rights Isabel Ferreira .
Ramos-Horta has described the tripartite meeting - the first of its kind - as "a milestone both in the history of East Timor and in regional relations."
In addition, Ramos-Horta and the committee responsible for the Independence Day Celebrations briefed the Council on the activities related to 20 May. The festivities will include an East Timor Expo, to be constructed at the site of the old Dili Central Market with a US$1.2 million donation from the Australian government.
The Council was also briefed on proposals to build two national monuments: an independence monument funded by the Australian government; and a monument to pay homage to Nicolau Lobato, the first commander of the resistance movement Falintil, killed in December 1978, funded by the Portuguese government.
The Council of Ministers also studied a draft regulation on the establishment of a Public Broadcasting Corporation for television and radio. The Council decided to create an inter-ministerial commission that will review the constitutionality of the draft and its financial implications.
Finally, the Council approved the Finance Minister's proposals regarding the budget for the fiscal year of 2002-2003, which will be presented at a 14-15 May donors conference in Dili.
HEALTH MINISTER, SRSG DEDICATE CENTRAL MEDICAL STORE
Health Minister Dr. Rui Maria de Araújo and UN transitional administrator Sergio Vieira de Mello led the official opening today of East Timor's Central Medical Store, a medicines warehouse that is the distribution hub of the national health system.
A ribbon cutting and live traditional music highlighted the dedication ceremony for the US$1.3 million building. De Araújo described the moment as a "turning point" in the management of a public health system that has struggled to rise from the ashes of violence that surrounded the end of Indonesian rule in 1999.
"The challenges are huge … but here we have the system to ensure that we are properly procuring, storing and distributing medicines in East Timor," the minister said.
Vieira de Mello called health and education the top priorities of UNTAET and East Timor's Second Transitional Government. Displaying a photograph of a burned-out shell of a building that was the territory's central pharmacy before the 1999 violence, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) illustrated the "nightmare" of medicine procurement and distribution that existed in East Timor just a few months ago.
The SRSG also applauded the Health Ministry, foreign donors and the World Bank for making the Central Medical Store a reality.
Construction of the Central Medical Store was managed by the World Bank. Donors included Australia, the European Union, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States, the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank.
The US military's Support Group East Timor (USGET) donated US$350,000 in office and medical supplies to the Central Medical Store last month. AusAid contributed an additional A$250,000 (US$129,500) in medical supplies.
GUSMAO, BISHOP BELO CALL FOR MORE CONSTITUTIONAL DEBATE
Independence leader Xanana Gusmão and Dili Bishop Filipe Ximenes Belo urged the Constituent Assembly today not to rush passage of East Timor's first Constitution, saying more time was needed for an upcoming public consultation on the historic document.
Speaking at the start of a televised public discussion organised by the east Timor Study Group, Bishop Belo called for the entire month of March to be devoted to the nationwide public review of the Constitution. He said the current consultation schedule - from 26 February to 2 March - was akin to "teasing" the public.
"This is our Constitution, our life, our future and our faith - therefore we shouldn't be in a hurry,'' the Bishop said.
Gusmão said he had recently expressed similar sentiments to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He added that he did not think the Constitution must be completed by East Timor's independence on 20 May.
"There are countries that became independent without having a Constitution," Gusmão said. "A Constitution is the pillar of a nation. It is the mother of law, and it should be properly legitimised by the people."
The popularly elected Constituent Assembly has spent more than four months drafting the Portuguese-language Constitution. After the public consultation, there will be final period of debate before its promulgation at a 16 March signing ceremony.
Today's public discussion was organised by the East Timor Study Group in conjunction with UNTAET's Office of Communication and Public Information. It was broadcast by both Radio UNTAET and Televizaun Timor Lorosa'e.