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East Timor Constitution May Take Longer to Draft - 2002-01-15


East Timorese leaders say they may take more time to draft the country's first constitution. U.S. lawmakers are encouraging the move saying the process is too important to rush.

Mario Carrascalao, a member of East Timor's interim Assembly, said Tuesday he and his colleagues are considering taking several extra months to write a constitution.

The Assembly, which is East Timor's first democratically elected body, has received a letter from a number of U.S. congressmen advocating deliberation over speed.

The constitution was tentatively scheduled to be completed by the end of this month for review by the United Nations. U.N. officials are currently administering East Timor until full independence later this year.

Mr. Carrascalao says he is not sure if committee members will ultimately decide to delay the process, but that the letter from U.S. lawmakers had certainly eased the pressure.

East Timor has been on the fast track to nationhood since it voted for independence from Indonesia in a U.N. sponsored vote in August 1999.

The vote resulted in a frenzy of violence from pro-Jakarta militias allegedly backed by the Indonesian military. Hundreds of people were killed and more than 200,000 were forced to flee into refugee camps in Indonesian West Timor.

Because so much of the territory was destroyed in the violence, the country is struggling to restore its infrastructure.

Assemblyman Carrascalao says he has felt that the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) has wanted everything done too quickly.

But both U.N. and East Timor officials say the transition period has gone better than expected.

East Timor Senior Diplomat to Indonesia, Juvencio de Jesus Martins. "I think this two years of preparation by UNTAET [has made us feel] we feel a little bit ready to stand on our own feet," he said.

Mr. Martins concedes though that a small U.N. presence would still be needed in the country after independence. "They have still some interests to assist us in many areas, administration, technology, and so on," said Juvencio de Jesus Martins. "This is an international case and an international responsibility. United Nations will still [be] there even though in small units, but they are still assisting us."

East Timor is schedule to proclaim full independence on May 20.

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