The first round of presidential elections in East Timor have been broadly praised by the United Nations and neighbor Australia, which still has nearly 500 troops in the volatile country.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has hailed presidential elections held over the weekend in East Timor, his spokesman Martin Nesirky said Sunday.
Ban "congratulates the people of Timor-Leste for showing their commitment to democracy and peace by participating in the 17 March presidential election," Nesirky said, referring to the country by its official name.
The UN chief was "heartened that the election was conducted in an atmosphere of order and calm," his spokesman added.
"The successful holding of the 2012 elections would further enable the transition to a new partnership between Timor-Leste and the United Nations," Nesirky added.
According to preliminary results, incumbent President Jose Ramos-Horta has already been knocked out of contentions for reelection.
Ramos-Horta, a Nobel peace laureate, conceded defeat on Monday after results from nearly 70 percent of polls showed he trailed Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres, of the traditionally strong leftist Fretilin party, and former military chief Taur Matan Ruak.
The 62-year-old spent more than 25 years in exile campaigning for independence for his homeland after it was invaded by Indonesia in 1975. In May, the chronically unstable nation of around 1.1 million celebrates 10 years of independence.
Following the declaration of independence from Indonesia, East Timor was administered by an interim United Nations government. Australia and New Zealand still have some 470 troops stationed in the small nation as part of the UN mandate.
Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith told news agency AP on Monday that his government would consider ending its six-year mission in East Timor if a run-off election in April and June parliamentary elections were also conducted peacefully.
dfm/ccp (Reuters, AFP, AP)