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BBC: Jose Ramos-Horta - 'Delay possible' in East Timor independence

British Broadcasting Corporation

Wednesday, 6 December, 2000

‘Delay possible’ in E Timor independence

Photo: More than two thirds of East Timor’s infrastructure was destroyed

A representative of East Timor’s transitional government has raised the possibility that the territory’s formal declaration of independence may be delayed.

Jose Ramos-Horta, who was sworn in recently as East Timor’s first foreign minister, said that it may not be possible to agree on a constitution and organise elections in time for independence to be declared in November next year, as planned.

Photo: Jose Ramos-Horta: “We have waited 500 years”

“We have waited for 500 years. If it’s not possible to meet that deadline, then we have to be realistic and courageous to put this back a few weeks or months if necessary,” he said.

Mr Ramos-Horta said the delay might be as long as six months, but added that a well-prepared transition to independence was more important than meeting deadlines.

His comments were echoed by other officials attending a meeting of international donors in Brussels.

The European Union’s development commissioner, Poul Nielson, said it was not a “big problem” to change the date for elections.
“It would be more problematic not to have a well prepared electoral process,” he said, noting “recent global experiences”.

The conference is the third such gathering of donors since East Timor voted in August last year for independence from Indonesia.
East Timor is now run by a UN administration, backed by a multinational peacekeeping force.

The intention is for the administration to hand over to a Timorese government once elections have taken place.

Photo: Poul Nielson: Much to do in East Timor

The main issue under debate at the donors’ meeting was how best to use the $500m in funds pledged at the previous two meetings in Tokyo and Lisbon.

Discussions covered the practicalities of organising security forces, social welfare, education systems and health care.
With 70% of the country’s infrastructure destroyed during Indonesian rule and 90% of the population living in rural villages, Mr Nielson said it was clear there was a lot to do.

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