Hundreds of people gathered on a dusty soccer field Sunday to mark the official start of campaigning in East Timor’s first national elections.
Leaders of the territory’s largest political party, the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor--better known by its acronym Fretilin--dismissed warnings that the six-week campaign may spark violence.
“We are confident that no significant violence will take place during the campaign period and after the election,” Fretilin Secretary-General Mari Alkatiri told the crowd.
East Timorese will go to the polls on Aug. 30 to elect an 88-member assembly that will draft a constitution to take the territory to full independence next year.
The half-island territory, which was devastated by Indonesian troops after it voted for independence in a United Nations-sponsored referendum in 1999, is currently under the administration of the world body.
A four-month census registered almost 738,000 East Timorese, of whom about 380,000 are eligible to vote. The U.N. electoral commission has registered 16 political parties.
Fretilin is likely to emerge from next month’s elections as the largest party in parliament. Its leader, Jose Alexandre “Xanana” Gusmao, is expected to become East Timor’s first president.