Subject: Tempo interview with Xanana Gusmao

also: Paul John Keating: "I don't believe there is anti-Indonesia sentiment"

Tempo Magazine April 30 - May 06, 2002

Xanana Gusmao: "Megawati's presence is important for peace"

Xanana Gusmao has now officially changed profession. Last Wednesday, the former guerilla commander became the first president elect of Timor Loro Sa'e, the former Indonesian province of East Timor. He obtained his ticket to the presidency by winning 83 percent of the votes in the presidential election in which some 300,000 East Timorese cast their ballot.

As part of his new agenda, last weekend Gusmao flew to Stockholm, Sweden, to take part in an international conference on reconciliation, and to make preparations for the forthcoming proclamation of independence of the former Portuguese colony on 20 May.

In his first overseas trip ever as East Timor's president elect, last Saturday Xanana Gusmao made a stopover in Bali. He was welcomed with a bouquet of flowers presented by the Udayana Military Commander, Maj. Gen. William da Costa, at Ngurah Rai International Airport. The following are extracts of an interview with Xanana Gusmao as reported by TEMPO News Room contributor in Denpasar, Bali, Rofiqi Hasan.

As president what are your plans for East Timor-Indonesia relations?

Overall, it would be to maintain the cordial relations which have been fostered all this while and to forget what transpired in the past. We have now entered the third millennium and I think every one of us wants peace.

Are you going to invite President Megawati Sukarnoputri to attend the upcoming independence celebrations?

Yes, we hope President Megawati would come to attend the independence celebrations of Timor Loro Sa'e.

Megawati's proposed visit to Timor Loro Sa'e has brewed controversy in Indonesia?

Certainly political prestige is one thing that we seek. In the third millennium conflicts are still going on in various parts of the world such as the Middle East conflict. I think all of us should endeavor to foster peace and cooperation. This can be done if all of us have the commitment to do so.

How important would Megawati's visit to Timor Loro Sa'e be to you?

Ideally, her presence would be important for peace. I wouldn't want to see the issue in a tactical light as we would be ensnared in a profit and loss perspective. We should look at it in a wider context even though there might not be any gains in respect of practical politics for both countries.

Will you guarantee Megawati's safety? Many circles are said to dislike Indonesia.

Oh no! That's wrong. Gus Dur (Abdurrahman Wahid) visited Dili in 2000 and there was no problem at all.

Reportedly there is a difference in opinion between yourself and Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri over Indonesia?

That is not true. Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta and I will be going to Jakarta in September. We will be meeting with the Speaker of the House of Representatives (DPR) and other officials. We will be presenting a common view on the future of Loro Sa'e's relations with Indonesia.

What about outstanding issues, such as the issue of East Timorese refugees?

Hundreds of thousands of them have returned home. I am optimistic the issue will be resolved soon. It is an ongoing process and I see the situation improving from day to day.

What about those East Timorese who are former members of the Indonesian military (TNI) and police?

Several of them have come back. We have told them that Timor Loro Sa'e is undergoing a social process to improve conditions and, for this, we need cadres to carry out development.

You are said to have faced difficulty in assigning positions to former Falintil commanders?

There is no such difficulty. Actually there are two groups of cadres: those who have resorted to an armed and clandestine struggle and the intellectuals. I said to them: "You have fought and are heroes. But as we are now independent, all of us now share the same position."

Otherwise, we will find ourselves in the same position as many countries in Africa that are now facing civil wars. In the independence era those with qualifications are given positions only when they pass tests. Surely some are frustrated and find it difficult. This is because in the past they had been preoccupied in how to fight a war.

Reportedly you would be giving greater priority to Indonesia than to Australia in fostering foreign relations?

I have a next-door neighbor and another one across the sea. It is only natural if I am closer to the one nearer to me. Should there be any problems I could easily contact my immediate neighbor. With a distant neighbor I have to get a car ready.

According to international opinion, Australia has given you a lot of assistance.

Yes, there could be such a view.

What about the Timor Gap? Are you disappointed with the settlement of the issue?

This is an issue for the government and I don't know much about it. Under our constitution the head of state and the government each have different duties to perform.

You have no objection to the division in duties?

Well, that is entrenched in our constitution. It would be unconstitutional if I intervene in the matter.

Your style seems to be very similar to that of Indonesia?

Many people say I am more like a Portuguese. Ha-ha-ha!

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