Subject: Veteran Pro-Independence Leader To Head E Timor Assembly

Associated Press April 9, 2001

Veteran Pro-Independence Leader To Head E Timor Assembly

DILI, East Timor (AP)--Manuel Carrascalao, a veteran of East Timor's 24-year struggle for freedom, was elected to head the territory's transitional legislature following last month's surprise resignation of independence leader Xanana Gusmao.

He was named speaker of the National Council after rival candidate, Nobel Peace laureate Jose Ramos Horta, withdrew from the ballot.

"Manuel Carrascalao is a fighter and a very courageous man," said Ramos Horta, who acts as East Timor's unofficial foreign minister. "During the most difficult period in this country's history, he stood up against the (Indonesian) occupation."

The 36-member council is wholly appointed by the territory's U.N. administration and is regarded as a dress rehearsal body for eventual East Timorese self-rule. It has no direct powers, but debates and comments on regulations drafted by the United Nations, which is administering the territory during preparations for independence.

The council is to be dissolved in June ahead of August elections for a new body that will draw up a national constitution to be in place before full independence is granted and a head of state is chosen, probably early next year.

East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence in a U.N.-sponsored referendum in 1999. Before and after that ballot, pro-Indonesian militias launched a wave of violence that ultimately devastated much of the territory before the arrival of international peacekeepers.

Militiamen killed Carrascalao's son during an attack on his home in Dili on April 17, 1999.

Gusmao had been the clear front-runner to become East Timor's first president until he announced his withdrawal from politics last month.

His departure amid infighting among Timor's various political factions makes it unclear who will get the top job.

Meanwhile, a U.S. naval task force arrived Monday in Dili for a three-day visit to the devastated province.

Approximately 350 marines and sailors from USS Boxer, USS Harpers Ferry and USS Cleveland will provide medical assistance and humanitarian aid, and work on community relations projects, a spokesman said.

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