Dili, 28 January 2002


The Constituent Assembly has nearly completed its two-month debate on the 151 articles of East Timor's first Constitution, keeping the popularly elected body on schedule to promulgate the historic document in early March.

Only four articles remain to be passed before the entire text is harmonized and approved in early February. The Portuguese-language document must then be translated into Tetum and distributed among civil society for review. Any public concerns or suggestions will be considered by the Assembly before a formal promulgation vote and ceremony are held on 9 March.

Articles passed since late Wednesday include:

Article 143, which states that amendments to the Constitution must respect East Timor's independence, unity, republican form of government, multiparty system, separation of powers, judicial independence and the rights and freedoms guaranteed to its citizens. Amendments must also respect the rights of a democratic opposition, universal suffrage, the separation of church and state, the principle of a decentralised administration, the national flag and the date of the proclamation of national independence. Changes to the form of government, the separation of church and state and the national flag can only be made by a national referendum.

Article 144, which states that no action may be taken to revise the Constitution during a state of siege or a state of emergency.

Article 146, which states that the ratification of conventions, treaties, accords or alliances - bilateral or multilateral - will be decided by the competent authority on a case-by-case basis. All treaties, agreements, conventions or accords must comply with national laws.

Article 147, which states that Indonesian and English shall be working languages within the civil service side-by-side with official languages (Tetum and Portuguese) when necessary.

Debate on Article 145 - which calls for special recognition of the nation's veteran freedom fighters - was suspended and referred to committee. The other four articles were passed with significant majorities.


An East Timorese delegation returned from Kupang, West Timor, on Saturday after meeting with local Indonesian officials and East Timorese refugees.

The two-day visit was part of an ongoing process to foster reconciliation and facilitate the return of East Timorese refugees still living in West Timor.

The team, which for the first time included representatives of both East Timor's Chief Minister Mari Alkatiri and resistance leader Xanana Gusmão, met with West Timorese officials including West Timor Governor Piet Tallo, Military Commander Colonel M. Moesanip and a representative of the Police Commissioner.

As a result of the visit, the East Timorese team has conceived a number of new initiatives to facilitate reconciliation and refugee returns. In consultation with other groups and organisations involved, these initiatives will be developed and submitted for consideration by the Second Transitional Government.

It is intended that the newly formed Commission on Reception, Truth and Reconciliation will play a major role in this coordinated strategy.

More than 193,000 refugees have returned to East Timor since October 1999, following the violence in September of that year.