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Gusmao to Run for East Timor Presidency - 2002-02-23

East Timor's independence leader Xanana Gusmao has officially declared his intention to run in the country's first presidential election. But the former guerrilla commander says it is a position he would rather not have. Xanana Gusmao says he will run for the presidency of East Timor in the April 14 elections. He plans to stand as an independent candidate but already has the support of 10 political parties. Caroline O'Brien, Mr. Gusmao's press spokeswoman, said "he's running only on the proviso that he's still an independent person, independent of these parties and their philosophies." Ms. O'Brien said part of the logic behind remaining independent is so that his presidency can work to unify the country's 16 political parties when divisions surface. "He's always been and continues to be pro-unity," she said. "That's his number one platform. He does not want to see parties tearing the each other apart at this stage. This is the time for laying strong foundation for the country. This is the time for all parties to work together." Mr. Gusmao announced his intention to run Saturday just hours before the registration deadline. Spokeswoman O'Brien said her boss has been reluctant to run so he had to weigh the decision carefully. "Leaders of other countries, leaders of the U.N., they're asking him to run, and he's under a lot of pressure to run, so he's running," she said. A former journalist turned guerrilla commander, many credit Mr. Gusmao's personal charisma for bringing about East Timor's independence in 1999. Mr. Gusmao's guerrilla army began fighting Indonesia shortly after Jakarta invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975. More than 200,000 people are believed to have died in the fighting. During the 1990s, Mr. Gusmao was captured by Indonesian forces and jailed for subversion. He was released shortly after East Timor voted for the territory's independence in a U.N.-supervised ballot in 1999.

Mr. Gusmao is facing one other candidate in the election: Fransisco Xavier do Amaral who served as East Timor's president for the nine days between the withdrawal of Portuguese forces and the Indonesian invasion in 1975.

The president will be inaugurated on May 20, the day East Timor formally becomes an independent nation. The territory is currently administered by the United Nations.