|Subject: E. Timor formally asks UN for
independence May 20
E. Timor formally asks UN for independence May 20
By Evelyn Leopold
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 22 (Reuters) - East Timor's newly elected constituent assembly asked the United Nations on Monday to grant it independence next May 20, paving the way for a reduction of U.N. military and civilian forces.
The world body has been administering the territory since 1998 after residents voted overwhelmingly to break from Indonesia, which invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975.
The president of the East Timor Constituent Assembly, Francisco Guterres, signed a resolution on Monday asking the United Nations to "hand over sovereignty to elected Timorese government institutions on May 20, 2002," U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said.
The U.N. Security Council is expected to approve the date by the end of the month.
In the East Timor capital of Dili, the 88-member assembly, which will form the country's new parliament, selected the date because it is the 28th anniversary of the founding of East Timor's first political party, the Timorese Social Democratic Association.
That group gave rise to Fretilin, the guerrilla movement against Indonesian rule and now the territory's largest party. Fretilin won 55 assembly seats elections held on Aug. 30, second anniversary of the independence vote.
In a separate report [http://www.un.org/Docs/sc/reports/2001/983e.pdf], U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the nearly 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers would be cut to 5,000 by independence. The 550 international staff and 600 U.N. volunteers have already been decreased and would be reduced by some 75 percent by next May.
But Annan did not say how many soldiers and staff would remain after independence, saying it depended on progress in local institutions.
The United Nations, he said, had identified some "100 core functions for which local expertise does not exist but which are essential to the stability and functioning" of the country's new government.
Under pressure from the United States and France to cut costs, Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N. administrator for East Timor, warned the Security Council last July that any reduction of soldiers had to be gradual or the world body would put in jeopardy "the enormous investment it has been made so far."
After the August 1998 independence election, pro-Jakarta militia, organized by the Indonesian army, went on the rampage, killing, looting and burning buildings to the ground. Australian troops stopped the carnage before U.N. peacekeepers arrived.
Many militia, now in Indonesian West Timor on the other half of the island, could continue to be a security threat.
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