Subject: AAP: Gusmao olive branch to militia leaders

Gusmao olive branch to militia leaders

PERTH, Oct 7

Some former militia commanders and soldiers who fought against pro-independence groups in East Timor will be welcomed back into the country under efforts to repatriate refugees.

Former resistance leader Xanana Gusmao told a public forum at the University of Western Australia, that up to 50,000 people remained in West Timor, displaced by the violence and turmoil preceding East Timor's first independent, democratic elections in August this year.

"On a practical level, there are many problems to repatriate our people," the former resistance leader, now turned poet and photographer, said.

"On many levels, we are not equipped."

Mr Gusmao said he welcomed the repatriation of some militia leaders and their soldiers under a process of reconciliation.

"Universal values like justice ... are an important part of the reconciliation process amongst East Timorese people," he said.

Mr Gusmao's wife, Australian born Kirsty Sword Gusmao, told the forum she recently established a foundation to support East Timor's women victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence.

The Alola Foundation was named after the nickname of a 16-year-old East Timorese girl, Juliana dos Santos, who was abducted by a militia commander at the height of the violence which followed East Timor's vote for independence in August 1999.

Mrs Sword-Gusmao said Juliana remained in West Timor "in a state of virtual sexual slavery".

She said it was vital that victims of the violence in East Timor has access to greater resources and justice.

Today's forum was hosted by the international refugee organisation, Austcare.

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