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East Timor sets up commissions to draft constitution

Associated Press - October 10, 2001

Dili – In its first concrete step toward drafting a new constitution, East Timor's national assembly Wednesday set up four commissions tasked with preparing sections of the national charter.

The assembly has until mid-December to pass the nascent nation's first constitution so that it can be in place before the UN-administered territory achieves independence next year.

East Timorese legislator Antonio Ximenes said the 88-member assembly had divided the document into four main themes: economics, human rights, national security and politics. Each committee will work on its own section of the constitution before submitting them to parliament for final review, he said. East Timor's 12 political parties have each prepared their own drafts, and will be pushing for them to be used, Ximenes said.

The national assembly, which was elected on August 30 and convened on September 15, has replaced an earlier transitional body consisting of UN officials and representatives hand-picked by UN administrator Sergio Vieira de Mello. Presidential elections are expected to be held within the first few months of next year, following the adoption of the new constitution. Independence leader Xanana Gusmao is widely expected to become the first head of state.

The half-island territory, situated in the south of the Indonesian archipelago, was colonized by Portugal for over almost 400 years. In 1975 it was occupied by Indonesia, whose army killed tens of thousands of people in a vain effort to overcome an armed resistance movement and integrate the region. In 1999, the territory voted overwhelmingly for independence in a UN-sponsored referendum. A violent rampage by the Indonesian military and local militiamen killed hundreds and left much of the territory in ruins.