The U.N. special representative to East Timor has asked the world body to oversee the province's transitional government until May 20. On that date, East Timor will become an independent country.

The head of the U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor, Sergio Vieira de Mello, said the territory is on schedule to make the transition to full independence.

He said the East Timorese Constituent Assembly has drafted and approved most of the provisions for the new country's constitution and that many of the other institutional elements are now in place.

Mr. Vieira de Mello told the Security Council that the Transitional Administration must be maintained until the independence date of May 20, in order to oversee such concerns as security and public administration.

Other speakers, too, paid tribute to the work being done in East Timor. Among them John Howard, the prime minister of Australia.

He praised the U.N. Transitional Administration and echoed the words of Mr. Vieira de Mello by insisting Australia is as committed as the United Nations to developing close ties to the new country.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has extended an invitation to the leaders of all 189 U.N. nations to attend the independence celebrations in May.