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STATEMENT OF SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY ON THE INTRODUCTION OF  "EAST TIMOR TRANSITION TO INDEPENDENCE ACT OF 2001"

February 15, 2001

For Immediate Release

Contact: Will Keyser

Today, along with Senators Chafee, Leahy, Harkin, Feingold, Reed, Jeffords and Kerry, I am introducing legislation to help facilitate East Timor's transition to independence. Congressman Lantos, Congressman Chris Smith and others have introduced identical legislation in the House of Representatives.

In August 1999, after almost three decades of unrest under Indonesian rule, the people of East Timor voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence.

They did so at great personal risk. Anti-independence militia groups killed hundreds, hoping to intimidate and retaliate against those supporting independence. The militias also destroyed or severely damaged seventy percent of East Timor's infrastructure. Government services and public security were severely undermined.

An international effort, led by Australia and including the United States, brought much-needed stability to East Timor.

Now, under the United Nation's Transitional Authority, stability is taking hold again in East Timor, and normal life is slowly returning.

In coming months, looking to America and other democratic nations as an example, East Timor's leaders will hold a constitutional convention to decide which form of democratic government to adopt. It is a process that reminds us of our own Constitutional Convention and would make our Founding Fathers proud.

Late next year, after choosing a form of democratic government and electing leaders, East Timor is expected to declare its independence as the UN draws down. A new, democratic nation will take its rightful place in the world.

This is a success story. It is a great success story. But it is far from over.

East Timor remains one of the poorest places in Asia. Only 20 percent of its population is literate. The annual per capita gross national product is $340.

The people of East Timor need and deserve our help. The extraordinary physical and moral courage they demonstrated over the years is impressive. The great faith in the democratic process they showed by voting for independence under the barrel of a gun must not go unrewarded.

This bill is our chance to help them, and help now. Its purpose is to put U.S. governmental programs and resources in place now and to enable U.S. government agencies to focus on the imminent reality of an independent East Timor. If we wait until East Timor declares its independence before we do the preliminary work, we will lose crucial time and do a disservice to both the United States and to East Timor.

Specifically, this bill lays the groundwork for establishing a firm bilateral and multilateral assistance structure.

--It authorizes $25 million in bilateral assistance, $2 million for a Peace Corps presence and $1 million for a scholarship fund for East Timorese students to study in the United States.

--It encourages the President, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Trade and Development Agency and other agencies to put in place now the tools and programs to create an equitable trade and investment relationship.

--It requires the State Department to establish an accredited mission to East Timor co-incident with independence.

--And it authorizes the provision of excess defense articles and international military education and training, after the President certifies that these articles and training are in the interests of the United States and will help promote human rights in East Timor and the professionalization of East Timor's armed services.

The people of East Timor have chosen democracy. The United States has a golden opportunity to help them create their new democratic nation. But we must prepare for that day now. We must not miss this rare opportunity to help.

I ask that a copy of the bill appear at the end of my remarks, and I urge my colleagues to support this bill.

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Return to Congressional Action on East Timor: Statements, etc.


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