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US Congress Urged to Support Democracy in E.Timor

US Congress Urged to Support Democracy in E.Timor

Tom Lantos House Committee on International Relations Ranking Democratic Member


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Congressman Tom Lantos (D-California), Ranking Democratic Member of the House International Relations Committee, today introduced the "East Timor Transition to Independence Act." This legislation would support democracy-building efforts in East Timor and assist the East Timorese people prepare for independence through $30 million in financial support and through other assistance. The bill is co-sponsored by 24 Members of Congress, including Representatives Patrick Kennedy (D-Rhode Island), Chris Smith (R-New Jersey), and Mark Kirk (R-Illinois). Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) also plans to introduce similar legislation in the Senate soon.

"Eighteen months ago, the people of East Timor lived in fear. Having voted overwhelming for independence, they suffered violent persecution at the hands of rampaging militias aided and abetted by the Indonesian military. Today, their fear has been replaced with hope, thanks in part to strong leadership by the United States, Australia, Portugal, the World Bank, and the United Nations. By playing an important role in the diplomatic effort to end the violence and by supporting international efforts to secure the peace, the United States and our international partners helped give democracy a chance in East Timor," said Congressman Lantos.

"Although Americans can be proud of our contribution to peace in East Timor, our work is far from done. U.S. leadership is again needed to complete the victory of democracy in East Timor. Institutions of self-government have yet to take root, economic prosperity has yet to materialize, and the perpetrators of past human rights abuses have yet to be brought to justice," continued Congressman Lantos.

"The legislation I am submitting today provides critical moral and material support to East Timor as its prepares for independence later this year. This bill outlines a trade, aid, and security agenda enabling the people of East Timor to fulfill their dream of democratic self-governance. Having helped deliver the people of East Timor from repressive rule, America has a responsibility - and a strong national interest - in finishing the job of building democracy," Congressman Lantos concluded.

Specifically, the East Timor Transition to Independence Act authorizes $30 million in bilateral U.S. assistance to promote civil society, independent media, job creation and economic development, reconciliation and conflict resolution, refugee resettlement, and voter education in East Timor. This legislation also responds to calls by the East Timor leadership to enhance our bilateral trade and investment relationship by mandating a series of steps to increase the involvement of U.S. trade and exports agencies in East Timor. It would also establish a Peace Corps program, launch a million dollar scholarship program, and urge the United Nations to apply for GSP (Generalized System of Preferences) status for East Timor.

Congressman Patrick Kennedy, a leading co-sponsor of the bill, echoed Congressman Lantos' sentiments. "East Timor has made excellent strides over the past year with the start of their fledgling democracy. This legislation will clarify our role and assistance to them through a meaningful and specific trade, aid and security agenda with East Timor," he said.

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