Subject: Ramos-Horta replaces Gusmao as Timor leader

Ramos-Horta replaces Gusmao as Timor leader

DILI, March 31 (Reuters) - Nobel peace laureate Jose Ramos-Horta, foreign minister of U.N.-run East Timor, will take over as head of the territory's de facto parliament, the United Nations said on Saturday.

He replaces independence leader Xanana Gusmao, who quit last week over internal squabbling which he said was hampering the tiny territory's push for independence.

Ramos-Horta's assumption of the presidency of the National Council must still, largely as a formality, be ratified by the body itself, which is due to meet on Monday.

The head of the United Nations administration in East Timor, Sergio Vieira de Mello, welcomed the move.

"I am confident that his talents and energies will be invaluable to the National Council in coming months," he said in a statement.

Ramos-Horta, who left East Timor just days before Indonesian troops invaded in December 1975, has travelled the world lobbying governments and the United Nations for a free East Timor.

Along with Dili Catholic Bishop Carlos Belo, he was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1996.

Gusmao, who until his capture in the early 1990s led separatist rebels fighting Indonesian rule, will remain politically active and a key figure in the impoverished territory's bid for independence, U.N. officials said this week.

He still heads the National Council for Timorese Resistance (CNRT).

East Timor aims to achieve formal independence at the end of 2001, two years after pro-Jakarta militias demolished the territory in response to its overwhelming vote to end Indonesia's harsh 23-year rule.

Tipped by some to become East Timor's first president after elections set for August 30, Gusmao said wrangling within the National Council was delaying decisions on details of the constitution and sowing confusion among the population.

Under plans for transition to full statehood, an estimated 400,000 eligible voters are to elect a Constituent Assembly in the territory's first democratic elections.

The assembly will then have 90 days to prepare and approve a constitution ahead of full independence. The assembly formally becomes the new nation's first parliament after the constitution is ratified.

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