Rebel guest of Her Britannic Majesty holds court

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The Independent Online
IF THERE was anything surprising about the angry scenes outside the British embassy in Jakarta on Wednesday, it was that nothing similar had happened before. Because for a week already, the squat and ugly Sixties block on a central roundabout downtown that is the embassy has been sheltering a special guest.

That man is the East Timorese rebel leader and icon, Xanana Gusmao. The minor melee that occurred at the entrance to the embassy was orchestrated by a small band of anti-independence activists, some in militia T-shirts, demanding that Gusmao be ordered out of the premises.

Gusmao, originally seized by the Indonesian military in 1992 and sentenced later to 25 years' imprisonment, fled to the British compound immediately after the Jakarta government released him on Tuesday last week from what had become house arrest. Today, he remains in a room inside the main block, with a folding bed to sleep in and a makeshift office divider across one corner to afford him a small area of privacy. His stay is transforming the embassy into a small and unlikely hub of diplomatic activity within the East Timor crisis. Every day, Xanana follows a packed schedule of meetings with journalists and Indonesian politicians who troop by to meet him. Yesterday, speaking to British reporters, Gusmao extended an invitation to anti-independence and militia leaders also to come by the embassy to talk with him.

Indeed, on Wednesday, when most of the media who had turned up to witness the anti-independence demonstration had gone away, two of the protesters were invited inside - at the behest of Gusmao, who wanted to see them. One explained to him that he had himself belonged to the Falintil guerrillas, who take orders from Gusmao, in the early Seventies. He defected to the other side when Falintil ran out of bullets.

Nobody has asked Gusmao why he chose the British embassy and nobody else's. It is unlikely that he was drawn by the reputation of the Goose and Durian, the rather dingy embassy club around the corner from the room where he is staying that has bottles of Boddington's behind the bar and Anchor beer on tap. It was here that Gusmao met reporters yesterday.

The notice of his impending arrival at the embassy over a week ago was very short. Word was relayed to the British ambassador here, Robin Christopher, that he was on his way. Clearance for him to come inside and be allowed to stay was given after quick consultations with Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, in London.