Subject: KY: E. Timor, Australia pledge continued friendship

Received from Joyo Indonesian News

E. Timor, Australia pledge continued friendship

SYDNEY, June 17 (Kyodo) - Australia and East Timor pledged to continue their close friendship Monday during East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao's first official visit abroad since his country became independent on May 20.

Gusmao, who arrived in Canberra on Sunday for a five-day visit to Australia, held talks there Monday morning with Prime Minister John Howard, who reiterated Australia's friendship with and commitment to the people of East Timor.

''I know the path ahead will have a lot of difficulties, but I know the friendship and support of the Australian government and the Australian people will be a constant element of East Timor's journey along that path,'' Howard said.

''Australians will for years into the future admire greatly the struggle of your people towards achieving independence and we certainly rejoice in the achievement of that independence and commit ourselves to a firm friendship in the years ahead,'' he said.

Gusmao expressed his ''profound gratitude for all the help that we have received (from Australia) ever since the beginning of the transitional period'' prior to May 20.

He added that he greatly appreciated ''the commitment of the Australian government to continue to help us in this difficult stage of our history.''

Gusmao was to travel later Monday to Sydney for two days of meetings with local politicians and East Timorese community leaders before departing for Dili on Thursday morning.

A former East Timorese guerrilla leader, Gusmao won the fledgling country's first presidential election by a landslide 86% of the vote in April.

East Timor became independent on May 20 when the United Nations relinquished the administrative control it had taken after the people of the former Portuguese colony voted in an U.N.-organized referendum to separate from Indonesia.

Australia has long been involved with East Timor on its road to democracy.

Howard's December 1998 letter to then Indonesian President B.J. Habibie urging an act of self-determination has been cited by Habibie as a motivating factor behind his decision to allow the referendum in East Timor after 24 years of Indonesian occupation.

Australia participated in the first U.N. monitoring mission that oversaw the vote, which was followed by weeks of violence and destruction, and it also led the subsequent U.N.-sanctioned international force in East Timor that restored security there in 1999.

Gusmao had originally planned to make his first post-independence visit abroad to Indonesia, arriving there May 29, but it was postponed at the request of Jakarta, which said it needed more time to arrange the visit as a state visit.

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