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East Timor: UN envoy, President-elect Gusmão participate in symbolic handover

East Timor: UN envoy, President-elect Gusmão participate in symbolic handover

With just four days left before East Timor's independence, the head of the United Nations Transitional Administration (UNTAET) today met with President-elect Xanana Gusmão to symbolically hand over the keys to his office at the Government headquarters building in Dili.

The handover ceremony followed a visit earlier Thursday by UNTAET chief Sergio Vieira de Mello to the eastern end of the island to bid farewell to the first operational unit of the East Timor Defence Force (ETDF).

In Lospalos District, Mr. Vieira de Mello inspected the 600-strong battalion and expressed his admiration for the smooth transformation of the former FALINTIL independence fighters into a national defence force.

"East Timor's future success as a nation will depend upon the maintenance of a secure and stable environment in which the people of East Timor can fulfil their aspirations, and you have a very important role to play in that task," Mr. Vieira de Mello said.

The first ETDF battalion deployed to Lospalos at the beginning of this year following the departure of UN peacekeeping troops who had been sent there from the Republic of Korea, and has since been conducting collective training to prepare for the eventual transfer in 2004 of operational responsibilities for the defence and security of the new nation.

Representatives of the UN peacekeeping force are scheduled to send off Mr. Vieira de Mello with a parade Friday morning in Dili, after which the UNTAET chief will meet with members of the Transitional Administration's civilian staff to thank them for their contributions over the course of the mission.

Mr. Vieira de Mello is scheduled to leave East Timor on 21 May and will be replaced as the head of the successor mission to UNTAET by Kamalesh Sharma, the former permanent representative of India to the United Nations.