Subject: President Xanana Gusmao: Open letter to East Timorese

CNRT/Congresso Nacional Presidency


Dear Fellow Countrymen,

It came as no surprise to me to learn about the Sydney Morning Herald article when I returned from a visit to Cova Lima district. Journalists have a right to publish news and the right to try to be different from others.

However, the article distorted reality and that is why I wish to clarify the situation to all East Timorese.

1 - As you all know, FRETILIN left CNRT right after the Congress because the Congress was considered by politicians and democrats as a manipulation for the continuation of my Presidency of CNRT; adding to this is the fact that they had no Vice-CNRT President. Likewise, UDT did not wish to participate in the CNRT/CN Permanent Council and questioned the functions that body was to take up.

It took quite some time for the National Council to be established but it did start its proceedings immediately. Given the situation and because there were 7 seats for CNRT and only six parties to take them I, as CNRT representative, offered myself to take up the remaining seat.

Just before the NC was inaugurated the NCC met for the last time to decide on increasing the overall number of members of the National Council so to include FRETILIN and UDT who were willing to participate (UDT as a member of CNRT and FRETILIN as an organisation outside CNRT).

My mistake was to keep my name in that list of candidates to the NC.

2 - Ever since the NC began functioning, I have not been able to ensure the compatibility of both my offices, CNRT President and NC Speaker.

My responsibilities as Speaker were being jeopardised by my duties as CNRT President which demand of me during this phase that I must work to assist in the definition of this transitional period's political process. Because I scheduled visits to the western districts I was absent from a body which was established to debate extremely important national issues.

Because I felt that I could not bear both responsibilities at the same time I requested that the NC members consider my resignation IN DUE TIME. I REPEAT: my mistake was to keep my name on the list of candidates after FRETILIN and UDT accepted membership of the NC.

It is my personal opinion that in any democratic political situation my resignation was a natural and transparent step. If I had tried, by all means, to keep my office in the NC without attending the working sessions and with the sole aim of receiving a salary for being the Speaker, I thought this attitude should be questioned rather than the opposite.

I took the opposite decision because I know Timor Lorosa'e is fortunate in having so many skilled sons and daughters. The National Council, in particular, has members who have proved during this brief period to be dedicated and committed and, on a daily basis, demonstrate their will and determination to prepare the institutions for the independence of our country.

3 - My regular absences from the NC, which can be overcome, do not dignify this body, that we all consider of crucial importance during this stage of the transition towards independence.

It is simply not correct to state that my request to resign came as a personal reaction to the refusal by the NC to accept the calendar for the political process proposed by the CNRT Presidency.

It is my point of view that at this stage of the political process the assistance that I may provide to the population is of utmost importance.

I understand and we all know that a political party is established to gain political power - that is their essential nature. However, we find ourselves in a situation, which many would rather not take into consideration, which is that of the widespread poor living conditions of the population: there are still many people without shelter, many people without any medical assistance, only a handful of schools with tables and chairs, an economy which is not active in most of the country and a population with no capacity to channel and sell their products, etc., etc.

Notwithstanding, some political groups have already begun to confuse the people by starting to register the population, others compel them to sign up for membership and threaten them with retaliation by FALINTIL. Some groups recruit recently returned militia members with promises of exemption from legal action if such groups ever reach power.

At a time when some of our population is still facing hunger, other groups fly flags everywhere while at the same time spreading the winds of conflict amidst the population. Violence, lies and the psychological and emotional abuse of our people is starting to occur. The existing political tension reminds us of the democratic awakening of 1974. We see that the present race for power by the parties who are already trying to control the population may next year lead to a repetition of the events of 1975.

The CNRT is the only force able to mobilise the people towards unity and stability, for a climate of peace and harmony among all East Timorese. We know that 'national unity' by political parties will not be achieved at the level of the East Timorese leadership, as was made clear during all the years of our struggle - and we all know that.

But the CNRT knows that it can continue to appeal to the people to defend their basic rights during this difficult stage: the right to live in tranquility, the right not to be subjected to the same mistakes that divided the people and which provoked violence and death in the past.

I am committed to this mission of the CNRT: to explain things clearly to the people so as to prevent consequences resulting from the power struggle.

Last week, I made some visits to the districts begining with Oe-kusi, Bobonaro, Maliana, Balibó and Lolotoe and ending with Suai, Fohorém, Fatumea and Fatu Lulik.

I soon expect to visit Ermera, Same, Ainaro and Manatuto.

I could not attend the National Council sessions because of these visits and this body had proved itself skilfully and lived up to its responsibility. The sons and daughters of our people who are sitting on the NC are, by no means, being affected by my regular absence. But these regular absences that are imperative to the supreme interests of our people and are more important than everything else, do not dignify this, the highest body, that was established during this transitional phase.

The NC and the Cabinet must be the moulds that cast the new East Timorese leadership and our people need leaders able to understand their needs rather than be merely engaged in a race for power.

As the CNRT President, I bear the following responsibilities:

- oversight of the political process - campaigning for the democratic awareness of the population and strengthening of civil society - defence

I hope that this explanation clarifies the distortion made by the SMH article.

I have stated and explained to the people that in the democratic society that we want to build we must create the conditions for new leaders to assert themselves because the demands of independence are much greater and harder than those of the armed struggle.

My request to resign from the National Council must be looked at within this context. The country needs democrats not autocrats. The people need qualified leaders for independence and my political engagement must be directed toward creating the conditions for so many others to assert themselves, most of whom come from the historical political parties.

I still prefer to paint and to write for at least these activities will give me enough time and the material conditions to build a 'palapa' (traditional palm house) as my home.

Until then, I wish to reaffirm to the People that their difficulties and aspirations are, as they always have been, my foremost concern. However, to serve the People does not have to mean that I must accommodate myself to the ambitions of the political parties. Political parties have the duty to know what is best for a People who have suffered so much and must, therefore, uphold the duty to not violate the right of the People to live in peace, harmony and tolerance.

Díli, 5 December 2000


December Menu
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter V3.5.8, is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from