East Timor leader Gusmao ready to work with Jakarta

Click to follow
The Independent Online
JOSE ALEXANDRE "Xanana" Gusmao, the former guerrilla fighter regarded as the man most likely to be elected leader of an independent East Timor, vowed yesterday to return to his homeland soon and to work with the United Nations to set up a transitional administration.

Mr Gusmao, freed from house arrest in Jakarta two weeks ago after spending six years in an Indonesian prison, also offered an olive branch to the Indonesian authorities, blaming the wanton violence that has laid waste to East Timor on "rogue elements" of the Indonesian army.

"We know the importance of Indonesia to our future, and we will work with the Indonesian government to create a new relationship between East Timor and Indonesia," he said, emerging from hiding for the first time since he slipped into the northern Australian city of Darwin on Sunday after leaving Jakarta because of death threats.

Mr Gusmao, the leader of the East Timorese Falintil resistance, was imprisoned by Indonesia in 1992. Under house arrest since last year, he was released after the ballot on 30 August, in which nearly 80 per cent of East Timorese voted for independence.

Yesterday, he was feted by his compatriots, 1,000 refugees who were airlifted to Darwin from Dili, the East Timorese capital, at the height of the violence that followed the ballot result. Elated to have their leader returned to them, they gave him a woven scarf, a traditional sign of respect and welcome, when he visited them at at their tented camp on the outskirts of the city.

Mr Gusmao acknowledged that this is as close as he is going to get to his beloved homeland for the moment. "I wish that I am there now. I will go as soon as possible," he said. But he made it clear that he would wait until it was safe.

As a first step towards ushering East Timor along the path towards nationhood, Mr Gusmao will meet Ian Martin, the head of Unamet, the United Nations Mission in East Timor, in Darwin later this week.