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E. Timor to Hold First Presidential Election in April - 2002-01-17

East Timor announces it will hold its first presidential election April 14. There may be a crowded field in the campaign.

East Timor's United Nations administrator, Sergio Vieira de Mello, says all 16 political parties in East Timor are expected to field candidates. Independent candidates not affiliated with parties must have 5,000 signatures to endorse their candidacy.

The result of the presidential election will be announced April 17.

The popular independence leader, Xanana Gusmao, is widely expected to win the race, which comes a little over a month before the territory gains full independence on May 20.

The United Nations has been overseeing East Timor's move to independence since October 1999, when an international peacekeeping force entered the country to restore order.

Violence broke out after the vast majority of East Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia in a U.N.-sponsored ballot. Pro-Jakarta militias, allegedly backed by the Indonesian army, destroyed much of the territory and killed hundreds of East Timorese. They also forced more than 200,000 people into refugee camps across the border in Indonesian West Timor.

Juvencio de Jesus Martins, the East Timor senior diplomat to Indonesia, spent three years in a Jakarta jail for his independence activities. He looks forward to the election as a sign of the new nation's growing independence. "We were victims of a system, not from the people of Indonesia, victims of a system. We see that the measure now is going to be democracy," Mr. Martins said.

Lawmakers are now drafting the county's first constitution, which will probably be delayed from the completion target date of January 25. Some members of the U.S. Congress recently wrote a letter to the East Timor Assembly urging members to take time to get a good foundation for the country and not rush to complete it.