East Timor’s spiritual leader and Nobel Peace laureate Bishop Carlos Belo said on Saturday he believed the territory would only gain independence during 2002.
The comments set him apart from other Timorese leaders who are pushing for independence at the end of this year.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to postpone elections for the constituent assembly in August,” he told the weekly Expresso journal.
“But independence will only happen around the middle of 2002 because there will have to be a ‘timorisation’ of the public administration.”
The bishop also said an independent East Timor should set up an associated-state status with the territory’s former colonial ruler, Portugal, to last for at least 10 years.
“This would allow (East Timor) to benefit from the support of institutions such as the European Union and from more effective international diplomatic relations.”
He told the journal that the presence of the UN peacekeeping force in the territory “if possible with the participation, even sporadic, of the US, is justified. It’s necessary to give confidence to the people.”
Referring to the ‘timorisation’ of the administration, he said this should be extended to teaching methods, health care, the police and management training.
Belo did not believe current events in Indonesia would have any particular repercussions for East Timor.
He said there were elements of the Indonesian army who were not in favour of the international arrangements regarding the territory but felt they did not have any international support.
East Timor has been run by the UN since October 1999.
Last month, during a pilgrimage to the Portuguese holy site of Fatima, the Bishop referred to “a certain radicalism” which was disrupting the smooth transition to democracy.
He said then that there were those who rejected democracy because they “experienced the civil war of 1974 and those who want to move swiftly to a multi-party democracy.”