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UN bows to pressure and gives Timorese more power

Sydney Morning Herald - June 22, 2000 (slightly abridged)

Mark Dodd, Dili – Under pressure to give East Timorese more responsibility for their own affairs, the United Nations announced yesterday it would more than double the size of the country's de facto parliament and make it all Timorese.

The UN chief in East Timor, Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello, will step down as chairman of the National Consultative Council but retain ultimate authority in the territory. No timetable has been agreed for the changes.

The announcement represents a concession by the UN transitional authority (UNTAET) and follows widespread dissatisfaction from East Timorese leaders that they were not being sufficiently involved in shaping their future in the lead-up to independence, expected within two years.

Under the new agreement the consultative council will expand from 15 to 33 representatives. Members will be paid a salary and allowances following a request by the President of the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT), Mr Xanana Gusmao.

A senior UN official said the expanded role for the council was the equivalent of a power-sharing coalition between the UN and East Timorese. The current line-up includes 11 East Timorese and four UNTAET officials, including Mr Vieira de Mello. Of the Timorese, seven are members of the CNRT, three are from the pro-integration side and one is from the Catholic Church.

Before departing for an East Timor donors' conference that opens in Lisbon today, Mr Vieira de Mello conceded that the existing council was unrepresentative, too small and lacking in transparency.

The new members will be drawn from the 13 districts plus individual officials representing youth affairs, women, the Timorese NGO Forum, Protestant and Muslim religions, professional groups, farmers, local business and labour.

An UNTAET spokeswoman said it would be several weeks before the changes were implemented because of the absence of UN and Timorese leaders at the donors' conference. The conference will hear details of East Timor's first national budget, and a request from Mr Vieira de Mello for additional funding.