Global perspective Human stories

East Timor: President of pro-independence party elected as Assembly Speaker

East Timor: President of pro-independence party elected as Assembly Speaker

In its first formal session today, East Timor's newly elected Constituent Assembly voted with an overwhelming majority for Fretilin President Franscico Guterres as its Speaker, according to the United Nations Transitional Administration in the territory (UNTAET).

The 88-member Assembly decided that the position of Speaker should be a permanent one, and that an absolute majority - 45 votes or more - would be sufficient to elect the speaker. Mr. Guterres, also known as "Lu-Olo," was subsequently chosen in an open vote with 68 votes in favor, one against and 17 abstentions. Two Assembly members were absent from today's session.

Due to delays in today's proceedings, the Constitutional Commission reports will be handed over to the Constituent Assembly by UNTAET chief Sergio Vieira de Mello tomorrow instead of today as planned. The reports from each of East Timor's districts contain input from tens of thousands of East Timorese on what they would like to be considered by the Constituent Assembly when drafting a Constitution.

The members of the Assembly were sworn in on Saturday in the newly refurbished Constituent Assembly building, funded by the Government of Australia. Members now have 90 days to write and adopt a Constitution that will determine what type of political system East Timor will adopt.

"It is up to you all to demonstrate that democracy in East Timor exists more than during infrequent elections but rather becomes part of the fabric of everyday life," Mr. Vieira de Mello said in a speech at the ceremony. "You answer to the people of East Timor each and every day you hold this office and you must make them proud."

In other news, eight East Timorese children separated from their parents following the 1999 Popular Consultation returned today to their hometowns in Aileu, Viqueque and Manatuto districts from orphanages in Indonesia. The children had been placed in Java orphanages by the pro-integrationist Hati Foundation after being removed from their parents in West Timor refugee camps. They were escorted from Denpasar by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Another 116 East Timorese children are believed to be currently living in Java orphanages, and a further 1,000 in other Indonesian provinces. Since 1999, UNHCR and IOM have reunited more than 600 children with their parents in West Timor and East Timor.