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East Timor Leaders Confident of Support - 2002-05-14

East Timorese leaders say they are confident the international community will continue to stand by East Timor as it prepares to navigate its first years as an independent nation.

East Timorese leaders say they expect pledges at a donors' conference in Dili to total roughly $70 million. Those funds will be used to prevent East Timor from going into debt during its first three years as an independent nation.

Representatives from 27 donor countries, as well as multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asia Development Bank, are attending the two-day meeting in the East Timor capital.

World Bank officials say the pledges are expected to cover roughly 35 percent of the budget for the next fiscal year. East Timor's government will be able to provide the remaining 65 percent of the budget.

East Timor has been under United Nations administration since shortly after it voted to break free of Indonesian rule in 1999.

The United Nations mandate has been to help the East Timorese form government institutions and rebuild much of the territory devastated by violence. Next week, the U.N. will formally withdraw and East Timor will be declared fully independent.

Officials say the U.N. mission in East Timor has been a huge success. The territory now has an elected parliament and president and those votes took place without any violence. That, they say, will go a long way toward convincing the international community to continue to provide support to East Timor despite crises in Afghanistan and other trouble spots.

"Would $5 million taken out of East Timor make a difference in Afghanistan?" asked Acting Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta. "Or is it better to keep the $5 million here to consolidate the democracy, the gains that have already been achieved here, after so much effort?"

East Timor voted to break from Indonesia in August 1999, after 24 years of conflict sparked by Indonesia's invasion of the territory.

Dignitaries such as the U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and former U.S. president Bill Clinton are expected to attend independence celebrations on May 19-20.