EU Hails East Timor's First Presidential Elections

The head of the European Union Election Observation Mission in East Timor has hailed the nation's first-ever presidential vote on Monday as peaceful. The news bodes well for the second round of voting in an expected run-off ballot in May. VOA Correspondent Nancy-Amelia Collins is in Dili and tells us more.

The head of the European Union Election Observation Mission in East Timor, Javier Pomes Ruiz, says the 34 members of his delegation declared Monday's elections free and fair. He praised the East Timorese for holding a peaceful election.

"We would like to congratulate the Timorese people for this peaceful participation in this first national elections since independence," he said. "Our observers were struck by the voters enthusiasm and passions as they turned out in large numbers to vote."

East Timor has been struggling to overcome deep divisions within the country after they erupted into violence a year ago. It was sparked by the government's handling of a military mutiny - which led to all out chaos and gang street fighting. The government requested international help from an Australian-led peacekeeping force - which has restored order for the most part.

With the apparent success of the election process, Australia announced Wednesday it would be scaling back its troop presence in the next few months.

The official vote tally for the presidential elections will be announced on April 19 if there are no legal appeals.

Election officials Wednesday said none of the eight presidential candidates won with an outright majority. The top vote getters are Fernando "Lu-Olo" Guterres of the dominant Fretilin Party, the current prime minister and Nobel laureate, Jose Ramos Horta, and Fernando de Araujo of the opposition Democratic Party.

Two of the men are expected to face each in a run-off vote. National Election Committee spokesman, Father Martinho Gusmao, says that second round of elections will be held on May 8.

Former independence fighter and outgoing president, Xanana Gusmao, says he is stepping down to run for the more powerful position of prime minister in parliamentary elections tentatively scheduled for June.

In 1999, East Timor voted for independence from Indonesian after 24 years of brutal rule.

The U.N.-sponsored vote was marked by widespread violence by pro-Jakarta militias. It killed more than 1,000 people, displaced hundreds of thousands and destroyed much of the country.

An international peacekeeping force was sent to restore order and the tiny country remained under United Nations supervision until 2002 when it achieved full independence.

Observers say peaceful presidential elections followed by peaceful parliamentary elections will lead the country to stability.