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East Timor Begins First Ever Presidential Campaign - 2002-03-15


East Timor has kicked off campaigning for its first-ever presidential election. But Xanana Gusmao, the presidential front-runner, still says he does not want the job.

The head of the U.N. mission in East Timor, Sergio de Mello, said he expects the one month campaign period to remain peaceful.

East Timor's first presidential ballot is scheduled for April 14. There are just two candidates for the job of leading East Timor while it makes the transition from U.N. administration to a fully independent nation.

Franciso Xavier do Amaral was East Timor's first president, serving briefly in 1975, in the days before Indonesia invaded the territory after the withdrawal of its Portuguese colonial rulers.

But many expect former independence leader Xanana Gusmao to win by a landslide.

Mr. Gusmao was the commander of the Falintil, a guerrilla group, which fought against Indonesian occupation of East Timor for almost 25 years. Mr. Gusmao began to take on the role of statesman in prison, where he spent seven years after being arrested by Indonesian forces on charges of subversion.

Considered by human rights groups to be a political prisoner, Mr. Gusmao met frequently with Indonesian authorities and foreign diplomats in his prison cell, discussing ways to end the East Timor conflict.

But since East Timor won its independence from Indonesia in a U.N.-supervised ballot two-and-a-half years ago, Mr. Gusmao has expressed reluctance to take the job many assumed would be his, the position of president.

Mr. Gusmao has said he would rather work towards unifying East Timor's various political factions, than to engage in politics.

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