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East Timor Prepares for Presidential Run-Off Vote

A representative from the U.N. mission in East Timor said everything is nearly ready for Wednesday's presidential election run-off. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins reports from East Timor's capital, Dili.

The U.N. Mission in Timor Leste, known as UNMIT, said the distribution of sensitive polling materials across the country's 13 districts required helicopters, trucks, and porters on horseback.

UNMIT's Deputy Special Representative for Electoral Support, Finn Reske-Nielsen, says materials will be delivered to all of the country's more than 700 polling stations in time for Wednesday's vote.

"The distribution of polling materials started Friday and is now continuing so that everything would be in place for the polling stations to open at 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday," Reske-Nielsen said.

This week's elections are seen as a key step to restoring peace and stability in this tiny nation, which has been beset by political turmoil during the last year.

The firing of nearly half the army a year ago plunged the country into violence and anarchy.

Rival security forces fought each other and the violence soon spiraled out of control, with gangs ruling the streets and around two-thirds of the residents of Dili fleeing into makeshift refugee camps where tens of thousands still remain.

Order was only restored after the government requested an international peacekeeping force, which still remains.

Last month, eight candidates ran for the mostly ceremonial post of president. The top two contenders were the current prime minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos Horta and the former resistance fighter and leader of the country's ruling Fretilin party, Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres. They face each other in Wednesday's runoff vote.

Last month's elections were hailed as generally free and fair, and UNMIT's Reske-Nielsen says it is hoped this week's vote will be the same.

"It is our desire that the second round of the presidential elections would also be free and fair and all of our efforts have been directed at supporting the government in this regard," Reske-Nielsen said.

More than 270 international election observers will join about two-thousand local observers to oversee Wednesday's polls.

East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia's brutal rule in 1999. It finally gained full independence in 2002 after several years of U.N. stewardship.