Subject: LUSA: Bishop Nascimento Visits West Timor, Vote Postponement Possible

28 May 01 13:08 East Timor: Bishop Nascimento Visits West Timor, Vote Postponement Possible

The Catholic Bishop of Baucau, Basilio do Nascimento, was to begin a three-day visit Monday to East Timorese refugee camps in Indonesian West Timor, after hosting a major "meeting of reconciliation" last week.

The bishop's visit comes as Indonesian authorities prepare to register an estimated 100,000 East Timorese refugees, beginning June 6, to determine who wants to be repatriated and who opts for resettlement in Indonesia.

Under international pressure to resolve the fate of the refugees, who fled or were forced into exile following pro-Indonesia violence during the 1999 independence plebiscite, Jakarta has set up 507 registration posts and reinforced security forces for the process.

Dili's transition cabinet foreign minister, Jose Ramos Horta, who participated in the reconciliation meeting in Baucau last week, told Lusa he was now "optimistic" about the speedy return home of "between 50,000 and 70,000" refugees "in the next few weeks".

As a result, Ramos Horta said he now backed a delay of "at least one or two months" in scheduled August 30 constitutent [sic] assembly elections to allow returnees to register for the vote.

Independence leader Xanana Gusmao and Catholic church leaders, including Bishops Nascimento and Carlos Ximenes Belo of Dili, also supported a postponement in the balloting, a crucial step in the UN- administered territory's advance to independence, Ramos Horta added.

Such a decision, he said, would depend ultimately on the blessing of donor countries and institutions, which are bankrolling the transition to independence.

A final decision on postponing the vote could come by the end of June, following a planned meeting of donors in Australia in the middle of next month, he said.

SAS -Lusa-

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