Subject: NZHerald: East Timor President Asks World Not To Forget His Nation

East Timor President Asks World Not To Forget His Nation Look to future, not past says Gusmao

20.09.2002 By AUDREY YOUNG political reporter New Zealand Herald

Visiting East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao left no room for doubt as to what he thinks of the present debate in New Zealand over its attitude to Indonesia's invasion of East Timor in 1975.

"Our people are trying to see how they want East Timor to be in 2020 and you are talking about 1970s," he told a press conference in the Beehive yesterday.

The conference followed further challenges in Parliament to Prime Minister Helen Clark's claims that Foreign Affairs officials misled the Prime Minister at the time, Bill Rowling, over the invasion.

Other MPs contended that recently released papers show he, too, misled the public.

President Gusmao recited what he had told the Indonesian authorities in Jakarta after the bloodbath of East Timor's independence vote in 1999.

"The past is the past. It was an historic era. We can from now do everything to avoid another historic error."

To a reporter's question about 1975, he said: "Now I am telling you, my friend, we have many children without schools, we have many without assistance, many handicaps, people without water.

"We have a vision for our people for 2020 and they ask the politicians, the intellectuals, the Government officials to give them a house, clean water, education."

Helen Clark said she had not appreciated until yesterday that although East Timor had a vision for 2020, it did not have a detailed action plan to get there.

Once it had done that, New Zealand could adjust its aid programme, she said.

"In a sense we are now in the fourth chapter of modern Timorese history. We had what happened in 1975, the Portuguese era, Indonesian era, short UN era and now the independent era."

The President had a ceremonial welcome at Government House yesterday morning, then hosted to a state lunch by Helen Clark and a state dinner by the Governor-General, Dame Silvia Cartwright.

He met some of East Timor's students studying under an aid programme at Massey University - some of them former students of new MP Dr Ashraf Choudhary.

Helen Clark told the luncheon that what she admired most about President Gusmao was "his capacity to forgive".

He was a resistance fighter for 17 years and then spent seven years in prison before becoming a leading force for reconciliation with Indonesia.

"After the hardship he endured in the long struggle for freedom, this spirit of forgiveness is inspirational."

President Gusmao said New Zealand was an example to many countries - mentioning its celebration of 109 years of women's suffrage yesterday.

The country also showed respect for diversity and difference of opinion.

"Another example is undoubtedly your vision on defence, the armed forces, and the options made on its dimension and resources," the President said.

"We shall not forget that regardless of the limited size of your armed forces, you did not hesitate to send a very significant contingent to the peacekeeping force in East Timor."

Opposition Leader Bill English paid tribute to the work of Helen Clark and Phil Goff and also that of former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley and former Foreign Minister Don McKinnon.

About 6000 of New Zealand's defence forces will have served in East Timor by the final withdrawal on November 24.

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