Subject: Timor's Reluctant President-in-Waiting Keeps His Fans Guessing

The Age [Melbourne] Friday 5 May 2000

Timor's reluctant president-in-waiting keeps his fans guessing


Photo: Resistance leader Jose "Xanana" Gusmao is mobbed by well-wishers at the launch of his new book in Melbourne. Picture: HEATH MISSEN

Jose "Xanana" Gusmao is seen universally as the president-in-waiting of the world's newest nation. He still has doubts.

On his second visit to Melbourne since his release from seven years' imprisonment in Indonesia, the East Timorese resistance leader hinted yet again at his uncertainty about his readiness to lead East Timor into nationhood.

Although his reputation as East Timor's leading statesman has soared since the end of Indonesian rule (symbolised, perhaps, by President Abdurrahman Wahid's proposal to include him in tripartite talks with Prime Minister John Howard), Mr Gusmao admitted wondering whether he is the right person for the job. "Now more than ever," he said, grinning.

Mr Gusmao met Premier Steve Bracks yesterday morning. Today he flies to Canberra for a National Press Club appearance and tomorrow to Sydney, for a meeting with the Prime Minister.

But part of yesterday was spent with friends and admirers on the banks of the Yarra for the launch of his book To Resist is To Win!. Published by Aurora Books, it is a collection of Mr Gusmao's essays on East Timor's struggle for freedom.

Greeted on his arrival by a stirring rendition of Timor Women - a song using words from one of his poems - he seemed overwhelmed by the occasion.

"Dear friends," he told his audience, "I never supposed it could be like this."

Mr Gusmao is renowned for his charm and humility. But he is also a political strategist.

In 1978, with the death of Nicolau Lobato, it fell to Mr Gusmao to rebuild a resistance movement decimated by the Indonesian invasion. In 1981, he became the commander-in-chief of Falintil (the National Liberation Armed Forces of Timor) and then created its political wing, the National Council of Maubere Resistance. He led both organisations until his capture by Indonesian forces in 1992.

Even from his prison cell, he remained spiritually at the helm of the resistance movement.

The United Nations is likely to wait until the second half of next year to consider full sovereignty for the people of East Timor.

Whether Mr Gusmao wants to run for elected office or not, he may find it hard between now and then to escape the high expectations people have of him.

That sentiment came through from the assembled guests yesterday. They included Bishop Hilton Deakin, chairman of the East Timor Human Rights Centre.

In formally introducing Mr Gusmao to the audience, Bishop Hilton Deakin addressed Gusmao's dilemma. "Xanana has said he doesn't want to be the future president," he said. "He was a fighter and a soldier and he wants to make room for younger people. He is old, he is tired and he wants to be a farmer. Ho, ho! "Sometimes when greatness is thrust upon you and you earn it with self-sacrifice, you have to stop wanting to do what you want to do and listen to the people. I know which way Xanana ought to go."

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