Subject: East Timor's Bishop Belo appeals for free, fair elections

East Timor's Bishop Belo appeals for free, fair elections

LISBON, Aug 19 (AFP) - The Roman Catholic Bishop of Dili in East Timor appealed on Sunday for this month's landmark elections to be free and fair, urging his flock to vote for candidates who would best serve the new country's interests.

East Timor, which voted overwhelmingly in 1999 to break away from neighbouring Indonesia, holds its first democratic elections on August 30.

"Everyone in East Timor is responsible for ensuring the elections are free, peaceful, fair and honest," Archbishop Ximenes Belo, a Nobel peace prizewinner, said in a pastoral letter quoted by Portuguese news agency Lusa.

"We must elect candidates able to serve the cause of all Timorese and not just their own families," he wrote.

This month's ballot will return 88 members to a constituent assembly which will have 90 days to prepare an independent, democratic constitution.

Belo's message, addressed to all parishes in the capital, Dili, thanked the UN-run transitional administration that was set up after the UN-supervised 1999 referendum on independence.

The archibishop also thanked the international community, which, he said, "was accompanying the people of East Timor on this great step towards democracy, peace and development".

Belo recently suggested East Timor should not become fully independent from Jakarta until next year, rather than breaking away later this year, although he did not advocate delaying the election.

In an interview with Portuguese weekly Expresso Belo said independence should not come until the middle of 2002, once the country's public administration -- including the education, police and health systens -- had been properly "Timorised".

Belo also suggested in the interview that East Timor, a Portuguese colony until 1975, should have associated status with Portugal for a period of at least 10 years.

That would enable it to benefit from the support of institutions like the European Union and enjoy more effective international diplomatic relations, he explained.

Belo also said a UN force should stay on in East Timor after the August 30 poll and include US troops.

East Timor was invaded by Indonesia in 1975 after Portugal withdrew and was annexed to Jakarta the following year.

Amnesty International says an estimated 200,000 East Timorese -- as much as one third of the population -- were killed by Indonesia troops or fell victim to starvation and disease during Jakarta's 25-year occupation of the territory.

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