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East Timor Announces Its First Cabinet Line-up - 2002-05-20

The newly-independent nation of East Timor has announced its first cabinet line-up and opened the inaugural session of the Constituent Assembly. East Timor became independent at the stroke of midnight May 20 when its U.N. administrators officially handed over power.

East Timor's Defense Forces march past the members of the new government shortly after the cabinet ministers took their oath of office. Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri addressed the hundreds of East Timorese and international dignitaries assembled outside the government's new offices the same building that formerly served as the headquarters for East Timor's U.N. administrators.

Those present included U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Australian Prime Minister John Howard and former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

"East Timor's new government is conscious of the enormous challenges it faces," said Mr. Alkatiri. "While it may make some unpopular decisions, it will remain committed to the principle of building a strong and transparent government for the people," he added.

Among those in the government are some familiar names. Nobel Laureate Jose Ramos-Horta remains East Timor's foreign minister a post he held during the two-year U.N. transitional period. Prime Minister Alkatiri, who is also the minister for economic affairs, is the man in charge of reviving East Timor's ramshackle economy. Madelena Boavita is the finance minister and Justice is in the hands of Anna Pessoa. Francisco Guterres serves as President of the Constituent Assembly.

Tens of thousands of people attended independence festivities on the outskirts of East Timor's capital Dili late Sunday and into Monday. The climax of the evening was the lowering of the U.N. flag, and, just past midnight, the raising of East Timor's flag for the first time over the independent nation.

The celebrations mark the end of East Timor's a long struggle for independence. East Timor's guerrilla army fought the Indonesian occupation of the territory for 24 years, sparked by Indonesia's 1975 invasion.

East Timor won independence in 1999 when its people voted overwhelmingly to break free of Indonesia, in a UN-supervised ballot. U.N. peacekeepers have spent the past two-and-a-half years helping East Timor's leaders hold democratic elections, write a constitution and form a new government.

East Timor has also signed a landmark treaty with Australia, covering oil and gas production in the Timor Gap, the body of water separating the two countries. The agreement is expected to bring billions of dollars in revenue to East Timor in the coming years. Until that happens, East Timor will remain dependent on international assistance. Last week donor countries pledged $90 million to help East Timor cover its budgetary expenses in its first three years of independence.