supporter joins independence leaders on E Timor council
Autonomy supporter joins independence leaders on East Timor council
DILI, East Timor, Dec 11 (AFP) - A former supporter of autonomy with Indonesia sat down with independence leaders and UN officials on Saturday for the first meeting of East Timor's governing council.
Salvador Soares, of the East Timor People's Front, was the lone autonomy representative at the first meeting of the National Consultative Council, a type of cabinet for East Timor.
"This is a momentous occasion, a key milestone both in the establishment of the transitional administration and in the evolution toward self-governance by the people of East Timor," Sergio Vieira de Mello, who heads the UN transitional administration in East Timor (UNTAET), said in his opening remarks to the meeting.
De Mello chairs the council which includes seven members of the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT), a Catholic priest and three other senior UNTAET officials.
Two other members, who will join Soares as representatives from outside the pro-independence CNRT, have yet to be named.
De Mello referred to the presence of Soares and said the Council will be an important step in the process of reconciliation among East Timorese.
Xanana Gusmao, the CNRT president who also sits on the council, called Soares "our brother."
Soares is the former owner of Suara Timor Timur, the Voice of East Timor newspaper whose offices were attacked by pro-Indonesian militias earlier this year. The destruction silenced the paper for a while but it re-emerged with a bias in favour of autonomy with Indonesia during the campaign for the Aug. 30 ballot.
East Timorese overwhelmingly voted for independence from Indonesia, a decision which unleashed a campaign of destruction by Indonesian security forces and their militias in September.
Soares and the other councillors began their first meeting by swearing to respect the results of the ballot, to promote human rights and democratic principles, and to reject the use of violence.
De Mello said he thought the council could have been named the National Salvation Council.
"I do believe that is our task," he said, and Gusmao agreed.
Speaking of the "sad, calamitous state in which East Timor finds itself," de Mello said calamity calls for unity.
"I hope we will be able to demonstrate unity of purpose in this consultative council," de Mello said.
Gusmao committed himself to working with UNTAET and said he hoped other organizations "will understand that it is this kind of working together that will help us solve the problems of the Timor people.
"We know that our task won't be easy," Gusmao said.
De Mello urged East Timorese to put aside their political aspirations and put all their resources into forging a partnership for the future.
"For now, in my view, we must pool all of our energy, creativity and resources to achieve a common good, to realize a shared vision and together build a country which will be a proud home to all East Timorese," de Mello said.
The council will be the main way in which East Timorese participate in the transitional political process. It will create committees of East Timorese and international experts to make recommendations on health, agriculture, education and other policy areas.
Councillors met around wooden desks arranged in a square at a simple office in UNTAET headquarters.
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