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Tuesday, 21 May, 2002, 09:37 GMT 10:37 UK
East Timor's UN chief heads home
Sergio De Mello chats to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan
De Mello (right) said the UN would never abandon its 'child'
The chief of the United Nations' administration in East Timor, Sergio Vieira de Mello, has left the newly independent territory after spending 32 months helping it prepare for self-rule.

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, centre, talks to East Timorese members of Parliament
The new government is still meeting foreign delegations
Mr De Mello vowed before leaving for his home country of Brazil on Tuesday that the UN would never abandon "its child", East Timor.

A smaller UN operation will remain in the country to assist the fledgling country for two years. The United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET) will initially consist of up to 5,000 peacekeeping troops, 1,200 police officers and up to 100 civilian experts.

But decision-making has now passed to the newly sworn-in government and national assembly.

"Now you can see, everything is done by East Timorese," said a press officer at the Foreign Ministry.

Settling in

The 24 members of the new cabinet were settling into position on Tuesday.

The government is still meeting and signing diplomatic and economic co-operation treaties with various foreign delegations, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri's Chief of Staff, Jose Guterres, told BBC News Online.

East Timorese wave the new national flag
The East Timorese celebrated the birth of their new nation on Sunday
East Timor key facts:
  • Population of 800,000
  • Asia's poorest country
  • Languages include Tetum, Portuguese and Indonesian
  • 90% Roman Catholic
    See also:

  • Although countries from around the world were quick to forge official links with East Timor, the South-East Asian regional forum, (Asean), has reacted cautiously to calls for the newly independent state to join the organisation.

    Asean's Secretary General, Rodolfo Severino, told the BBC that East Timor would be able to argue its case at a regional forum in July - where the new nation has been invited as a guest.

    But he said no formal application had yet been received, and certain conditions would have to be met first - for example an East Timorese embassy would have to open in all of Asean's 10 member states.

    However an application to join the United Nations, ratified in East Timor's first session of parliament on Monday, received a more positive reaction.

    "All nations are equals... the doors of the United Nations are open to rich or poor nations, small or big nations," UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said after receiving the application.

    Later the UN's Security Council said it expected East Timor to become the UN's 190th member at the next annual session of the General Assembly in mid-September.

    Task ahead

    East Timor's new government has pledged to tackle the enormous task of rebuilding the country's ravaged economy.

    At the parliament's inaugural session, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri presented the programme of his new government, stressing that his main spending priorities would be health and education.

    Over the next three years, he said, the amount spent on these essential services would increase to almost half the national budget.

    East Timor's economy was seriously damaged by the violent Indonesian withdrawal in 1999 and by centuries of neglect as a Portuguese colony.

    The BBC's Jonathan Head, in Dili, says that among the problems East Timor faces are its isolation, its lack of infrastructure and its poorly educated population.

    Key stories

    Independence day


    Key people


    See also:

    19 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
    13 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
    20 May 02 | Media reports
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