DILI, East Timor (September 15, 2001 11:23 a.m. EDT) - The U.N. administration in East Timor on Saturday inaugurated the newly elected assembly that will draft the territory’s first constitution, bringing it one step closer to full independence.
The 88-member assembly, which was voted in last month, will have three months to draft the charter and adopt East Timor’s new political system.
At a ceremony presided over by local U.N. administrator Sergio Vieira de Mello, the constitution writers swore to uphold the principles of democracy.
“Our struggle for 24 years has become a reality,” said popular independence movement leader Xanana Gusmao, who watched the inauguration.
Gusmao is widely expected to become East Timor’s first president when it becomes fully independent next year. Until then, the United Nations is administering the territory.
Saturday’s ceremony was held in a newly refurbished assembly building behind the U.N. headquarters in Dili.
De Mello began proceedings by calling on all present to stand for a minute of silence in memory of the victims of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks in the United States.
“The East Timorese know the heavy price to be paid to achieve and preserve peace, self-government and democracy,” he said.
Hundreds were killed and 80 percent of East Timor’s infrastructure destroyed by retreating Indonesian troops and allied militia members following East Timor’s vote for independence in 1999.
The assembly will meet Monday to choose a speaker and deputy speaker, and a transitional government of around 10 East Timorese ministers is expected to be announced early next week.
Also Saturday, around 1,000 U.S. marines and sailors arrived to provide humanitarian assistance and help with rebuilding work. They were operating from the warships USS Peleiu, USS Comstock and USS Dubuque.
U.S. servicemen are not included in the 8,000-strong international peacekeeping force in East Timor but often visit for humanitarian projects.
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