UN's Envoy in East Timor Upbeat About Upcoming Elections

The special representative of the United Nations secretary-general in East Timor is upbeat about coming elections in the country despite sporadic incidents of violence as the volatile nation prepares to elect a new president next week. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins in the capital Dili has more.

East Timor, which broke away from Indonesian rule in 1999, will vote for a new president Monday to replace independence hero and current president Xanana Gusmao.

The charismatic Gusmao is not seeking reelection but says he may want to become prime minister, a post far more powerful than the largely ceremonial role of president.

East Timor has been struggling to recover from violence that broke out last year. The firing of more than 600 soldiers led to rioting that displaced three quarters of the residents of the capital. A tentative calm was only established after foreign troops were called in at the government's request.

The U.N. secretary-general's special representative in East Timor, Atul Khare, believes the April 9 presidential election will be fair and peaceful.

"I'm confident that this will be a peaceful election," he said. "I'm confident that it will be free, fair, and transparent. I'm also confident that the many different observers, both international and national, will provide independent observation that will be needed to ensure that the public accepts whatever the results may be."

Over 1,000 national observers and more than 200 international observers will take their places at around 700 polling stations spread across the tiny nation to ensure the vote is fair.

The United Nations will lend support with vehicles and four helicopters to bring ballot boxes and sensitive voting materials to remote villages, while the government will use 400 porters and 90 horses.

Eight candidates are vying for the presidency, including the popular former prime minister and Nobel laureate, Jose Ramos Horta.

There will be a second round of elections between the two top vote takers in 30 days if no single candidate gets 50 percent plus one of the total votes cast.

Isolated incidents of violence and intimidation have marred the campaign period, but U.N. envoy Khare says it has not stopped the campaigning.

"Fortunately none of the incidents have been extremely serious and none have prevented the campaign from proceeding. Still we strongly condemn all use of violence during the election campaign… I would again urge all parties to call on their supporters to refrain from such behavior," said Khare.

The impoverished country of East Timor has been struggling to build a democratic nation since breaking away from decades of bloody Indonesian rule in 1999.