Returning hero tells Timor to forgive

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA, East Timor's de facto foreign minister and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, returned to his home yesterday after 24 years in exile, and urged his people to forgive Indonesia for its brutal occupation of his country.

"My first words are words of gratitude, words of thanks, of sincere thanks to each and all of you," he told 5,000 people who gathered at the former Portuguese governor's palace in the East Timorese capital, Dili.

"I did not come today, to arrive here after 24 years ... to teach a lesson to any one, because the true heroes are those who stayed behind. They're the ones who suffered, they're the ones who were tortured, were raped. They're the ones who were killed. With humility we bow to their courage."

He arrived from a historic meeting in Jakarta with the Indonesian president, Abdurrahman Wahid. Until last year, Mr Ramos-Horta was a hate figure for Jakarta which resented his success in keeping alive the issue of Indonesia's brutal annexation of East Timor in the United Nations and international capitals.

But yesterday, Mr Ramos-Horta called for reconciliation. "If any Indonesians stay here we must take care of them, talk with them, because we must follow what God says and forgive," he said. "If we are friendly with them, the whole world would respect us."

The Indonesian parliament gave East Timor independence last month, after the bloody violence, perpetrated by its own army and militias, which followed August's overwhelming vote for independence in the UN-supervised referendum.

Many exiled East Timorese have returned to Dili, including the guerrilla commander, Xanana Gusmao, who spent seven years in prison in Jakarta. But the changes have exposed tensions among the different wings of the pro-independence body, the National Council for East Timorese Resistance (CNRT), particularly between those who stayed in the country, and those who campaigned from exile in Portugal and Australia.

Yesterday, Mario Carrascalao, a prominent independence leader and adviser to Mr Gusmao, made a fierce attack on Mr Ramos-Horta in an interview, accusing him of attempting to dominate the CNRT by appointing his personal allies to key positions. "Gusmao is isolated and Ramos-Horta is trying to control totally the CNRT, nominating his friends, without consulting anybody, to all the jobs," Mr Carrascalao told the Lisbon paper, Publico.

Mr Ramos-Horta, a former journalist of mixed Portuguese and Timorese parentage, left East Timor 24 years ago this week to gather diplomatic support for East Timorese independence, which was threatened by covert Indonesian incursions in the west of the country.

As the diplomatic representative, it was he who had obtained a notorious letter from the then Indonesian foreign minister, Adam Malik, promising that Jakarta had no territorial designs on East Timor. But three days after his departure, Indonesia invaded launching a war which left an 200,000 people dead and displaced many more.

Three of Mr Ramos-Horta's brothers and a sister died during the struggle.

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