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UN Volunteers arrive in Timor-Leste to begin work on election preparations

UN Volunteers arrive in Timor-Leste to begin work on election preparations

A group of 45 United Nations Volunteers (UNV) have arrived in Timor-Leste to join preparations for the strife-torn country’s first post-independence elections next year.

The 29 men and 16 women, hailing from 21 nations, are the vanguard of an eventual 250 UNVs – many with lengthy electoral experience – who are expected to help in the run-up to the crucial polls.

Before starting work the UNVs will undergo an intensive three-week training programme in the Tetum language, cultural sensitivity and security procedures, according to a press release issued today in Dili by the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT).

The Secretary-General’s Acting Special Representative for Timor-Leste Finn Reske-Nielsen said the first batch of volunteers have been dispatched at the right time as poll preparations are now well under way following last month’s arrival of a high-level International Electoral Certification Team.

“Their combined experience and expertise in elections reaffirms UNMIT’s commitment to supporting all aspects of the 2007 elections, which we believe to be a vital step on the path towards peace and stability in Timor-Leste,” he said.

The volunteers will be deployed in teams of three to Timor-Leste’s district capitals to work in operations and logistics, voter education and training and to advise national electoral administration staff. Two electoral legal experts will also operate in the National Parliament.

The Security Council created an expanded UNMIT in August to help restore order after a crisis attributed to differences between eastern and western regions erupted in April with the firing of 600 striking soldiers, a third of the armed forces. Ensuing violence claimed at least 37 lives and drove 155,000 people, 15 per cent of the total population, from their homes. The violence came four years after the UN shepherded the tiny South-East Asian nation to independence.