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East Timor Leader Emphasizes Reconciliation With Indonesia - 2002-05-04


It appears East Timor's president-elect is ready to put the past behind him. Xanana Gusmao recently visited the Indonesian capital Jakarta, where he emphasized the importance of reconciliation between the former enemies. East Timor becomes fully independent later this month.

With Xanana Gusmao's recent visit to Jakarta, it appears to many that he has come full circle. A former commander of East Timor's guerrilla forces, Mr. Gusmao was one of Indonesia's best-known political prisoners. He spent seven-years in prison after Indonesian forces arrested him in 1992.

In his first visit since being elected president last month, Mr. Gusmao carried a message of reconciliation to Indonesian legislators, his former foes. "I believe that East Timor and Indonesia can give a kind of light to the world that if there is good will to solve problems we can do," he said. "We are human beings, but human beings that has, or have, political goodwill to find out a solution to all the problems that can appear."

Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 and the East Timorese responded with a guerilla war for independence.

The conflict was resolved in 1999, when Indonesia permitted a referendum on East Timor's political status, which the independence movement won by a landslide. But pro-Indonesia militia groups all but destroyed East Timor in the days before and after the vote, killing hundreds of people.

After much delay, Indonesia recently set up a special court to try suspects accused of human-rights abuses in East Timor. The court has come under fire by East Timorese groups, which say Jakarta has let members of the Indonesian Armed Forces escape prosecution.

But Mr. Gusmao said the trials are of less concern to him than other types of justice. "I believe that if we talk about justice, we see a few people to be judged, to be tried," he said. "But if we talk about social justice, we have all our people to be cared (for)."

The president-elect said too many East Timorese are hungry, too many women die in childbirth, and too many families cannot afford to send their children to school. "Justice, yes justice. But what is my priority? Social justice," he said. "We fought, we suffered, we died for what? To try other people, or to see benefits from the independence? It is question of balancing."

East Timor will continue to need millions of dollars in international aid in its first years as an independent nation. To keep that aid flowing, analysts say it is critical that East Timorese leaders prove they can govern themselves without falling into petty political squabbles.

To that end, Mr. Gusmao dismissed recent media reports suggesting he had a falling out with East Timor's prime minister, Mari Alkatiri. "It was differences, differences of opinion," he said. "And the press made this as political conflict. But, no, and I will, I will continue to try to help the people of East Timor to understand that difference is the sense of the democracy, if not we will die as an independent and democratic nation."

Mr. Gusmao will be inaugurated president on May 20, when the territory's U.N. administrators formally withdraw.

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