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Indonesian President Invited to East Timor Independence Celebrations - 2002-05-03

East Timor's president-elect has invited Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri to the former Indonesian territory's independence celebrations later this month. Mr. Gusmao ended a one-day visit to the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

President-elect Xanana Gusmao said the people of East Timor expect that Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri will attend the independence celebrations. "The main purpose of my visit was to add to that gesture by extending my personal invitation to her. … I am indeed very happy to say that Madame Megawati has noted our desire to welcome her on the historic occasion in Dili," he said. "We, on our part, in East Timor will be working on the basis that she will grace our celebrations by her presence. "

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has also invited Ms. Megawati to attend the festivities on May 20.

But Indonesia's foreign minister said Thursday Ms. Megawati is still considering the invitations. Her possible visit has caused much debate within Indonesia's Parliament and military.

Indonesia granted East Timor independence in 1999, after forcibly occupying the former Portuguese colony for 24-years. East Timor's long fight for independence climaxed with a frenzy of destruction by anti-independence militias in the weeks surrounding the independence vote.

International peacekeepers were brought in and the territory has been under United Nations administration since. To many Indonesians, the history their country shares with East Timor only represents defeat.

But Mr. Gusmao said the two nations are looking to build a strong bilateral relationship. "East Timor fully comprehends the immense value of nature's gift of permanent neighborhood bestowed on us and of nurturing it with ties in most silken ties, in the political, social and economic domain," he said.

Mr. Gusmao is expected to visit the Indonesian island of Sulawesi before returning to East Timor.