Interview with E. Timor's Prime Minister Alkatiri
BBC Worldwide Monitoring
East Timor premier interviewed on government programme
Timorese premier Mari Alkatiri has played down reports of a rift between Fretilin and President Gusmao during an interview with a London-based Arabic paper. He also stressed that good relations with Indonesia were a priority for the new government, and rejected the idea of religious discrimination or special treatment for minorities. The following is The Text of an interview with Mari Alkatiri, prime minister of East Timor, by Ali Sabri; place, date not given, entitled "Arab-born prime minister of East Timor tells Al-Hayah: Muslims must respect the law and they don't receive special treatment", published by London-based newspaper Al-Hayat on 4 July
Sabri: What is your main programme as the prime minister of the new state?
Alkatiri: This government shoulders the missions of developing the state. Achieving independence is the first step in this direction. Our first mission is to develop the state establishments, form national and local administrations, improve the deteriorating economic situation, attract foreign investments, and create job opportunities, since around 80 per cent of the work force cannot find work. There are many challenges. Our priority is to develop the state.
Sabri: But in order to be able to develop the state in a sound manner, you should utilize all energies of the people, and not only rely on the Fretilin Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor Movement, as the citizens here are complaining.
Alkatiri: It is natural to rely on the cadres of our movement because we have won in the elections. We have told political parties that they can take part in developing the state from their position in the opposition. But they want to hold public posts and be in the opposition at the same time. This is not possible. If they are a part of the government, they should be loyal to the government and they may not play the role of opposition in parliament.
Sabri: The people criticize you because you spent many years abroad and then suddenly returned to the country to head the government and brought your friends with you to lead the country.
Alkatiri: I was sent by the movement outside the country in 1975. I did not leave of my own will. We cannot ignore the importance of diplomatic action in the struggle for the liberation of East Timor. I am the first to appreciate and respect the armed struggle carried out by the movement's members on the country's soil. But it would have been very difficult to achieve independence without diplomatic action. Second, I am the son of the Fretilin Movement, which won in the elections. The movement alone has the right to decide on who should be the prime minister. If you look at this from a democratic angle, you must respect the law in the end. The law does not discriminate between the Timorese at home and abroad. We don't have this discrimination within the cadres of the movement.
Sabri: It is common knowledge that you and President Gusmao have a dispute over several issues, like the relationship with Indonesia and the amnesty for collaborators with it. Is this true?
Alkatiri: This is not true. Of course, there is a difference in views. I am for reforming things justly, since justice is our bridge to reform. Today, we can assess our ties with our former enemies (Indonesia), but this will bring back the problems between us. I think the amnesty is important, but after achieving justice and after everybody gets his right from the person who wronged him. Justice comes first.
Sabri: But why did your movement boycott Xanana Gusmao in the presidential elections?
Alkatiri: This is not true. We did not nominate Gusmao, who was nominated by nine parties. We remained neutral because he did not accept our programme. We were clear in leaving it to our movement's cadres to elect the person they deem fit for the presidency, be he Gusmao or his rival, Xavier do Amaral, or not to elect any of them.
Sabri: Do the people think that Gusmao is still the leader of Fretilin?
Alkatiri: Many members of the people still don't believe that Gusmao is no longer a member of Fretilin. They don't want to believe this. The truth is that Gusmao is not against Fretilin, and Fretilin is not against Gusmao. He is now independent, and we respect that.
Sabri: But what will be the future of Fretilin if the people find out that Gusmao is no longer the leader of the movement, taking into consideration that they voted for the movement because Gusmao is its leader?
Alkatiri: Gusmao is not a political party, and Fretilin is not a leader. There is a big difference between the two. Had Gusmao wanted to enter into a battle with Fretilin, he would have established a new movement to fight through it and he would not have entered into the battle as a presidential candidate.
Sabri: How is your budding government going to develop the economy and how are you going to get money to achieve the required development?
Alkatiri: We have no money at all. The human factor is the only thing we have to achieve development. This means that we must focus on developing the mind first. I reject depending completely on oil and gas in development. The private sector has an important role to play in this respect. However, this requires creating the legal, political, and environmental conditions to encourage the private sector to work, since development should be integrated.
Sabri: How do you see the future of your country's relationship with Indonesia?
Alkatiri: There is no doubt that Indonesia is a very important country for us, since it is the nearest neighbour. Economic cooperation with Indonesia will be very useful for our country. Some people think that I am an enemy of Indonesia. Those people don't know that I have more relatives in Indonesia than in East Timor. I am not against Indonesia. On the contrary, I support any step to improve the relationship with it.
Sabri What are your priorities for improving this relationship?
Alkatiri First, putting an end to the issue of Timorese refugees in Indonesia and then to the issue of demarcating the borders. This is because if the borders are not demarcated officially, they will continue to be an element of misunderstanding and dispute in the future. Third, we want to develop cultural and educational ties and we want to attract Indonesian investments to our country. I assert that the time - when the dividing line between East Timor and West Timor, (which belongs to Indonesia) , was one of the causes of the conflict - is over. This line will be one of the causes of uniting the Timorese people and serving their interests.
Sabri What about the Indonesian property in East Timor?
Alkatiri The Indonesian Government knows very well that our position on this issue is that they owe us nothing and we owe them nothing. We have to start our relationship from scratch, whereby we forget what belongs to us and they forget what belongs to them.
Sabri: If Indonesia is going to forget its property in East Timor, then what is East Timor going to forget?
Alkatiri: We don't want to go back in history and say that we did not invite anyone to our country to construct roads and buildings in it.
Sabri: What about the Indonesians who are still in East Timor, especially those who reside at the Kampung Alor Mosque in Dili?
Alkatiri: I advise Muslims here to respect the law. The government has decided to move them to another place. They must accept this, because we have made the same decision against the Timorese. Besides, the mosque is a place of worship, and not trade. We have prepared a suitable place for their residence and trade.
Sabri: Those Indonesians are asking for Timorese citizenship. Are you going to grant it to them?
Alkatiri: This is a different issue because we still don't have a law to decide on these matters. We are in the process of enacting the laws of the state. We will complete these laws soon, probably in July 2002. Until that happens, I cannot answer this question.
Sabri As a Muslim prime minister in a Catholic state, do you have a special policy towards Muslims in East Timor?
Alkatiri I am against special treatment of groups. Above all, I am Timorese. When you are from the minority, you have to deal with the whole population, while preserving religious, cultural, and other traditions, but without discriminating against others because discrimination is a dangerous policy.
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