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East Timor: Mandate of UN mission extended until territory's 20 May independence

East Timor: Mandate of UN mission extended until territory's 20 May independence

The Security Council today extended the mandate of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) until 20 May, the territory's date of independence.

The unanimous action took place just a day after the Council was briefed in an open meeting by Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN's top official in East Timor, and José Ramos-Horta, the territory's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, on the preparations for statehood and a successor mission to UNTAET.

Meanwhile in Dili, the Constituent Assembly today voted overwhelmingly to transform itself into East Timor's first legislature upon final approval of the constitution.

The vote - 65 in favour, 16 against with 2 abstentions - ended a heated debate on whether legislative elections should be held in concert with the 14 April presidential election or shortly after East Timor marks its independence on 20 May. Five members were absent.

The idea of transforming the Constituent Assembly - the 88-member body popularly elected on 30 August 2001 to draft and pass the constitution - was first proposed in late 2000 by the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT), an umbrella organization of political parties and civic organizations formed in 1998. The proposal was adopted by the National Council - an interim legislative body that preceded the Assembly - and included in Article 151 of the Assembly's draft constitution.

Mr. Vieira de Mello has supported the transformation, and UNTAET's Independent Electoral Commission had previously warned that legislative elections would have been impossible to organize ahead of independence.

With today's vote, the Assembly has now completed its debate on all 151 articles of the original draft constitution, though several articles forwarded to committees for reworking and an as-yet-unwritten Article 152 - expected to call for certain sections of the constitution to come into force before independence day - have yet to be passed.