Subject: CNS: East Timor's president says church plays large role in reconstruction

ETIMOR-GUSMAO May-24-2002 (520 words) xxxi

East Timor's president says church plays large role in reconstruction

By Catholic News Service

DILI, East Timor (CNS) -- East Timor's first president has expressed strong support for the role of the Catholic Church in the process of building a democratic state.

President Xanana Gusmao promised to try his "best to continue to give people the opportunity to know about freedom, tolerance and democracy" and invited the church to help, reported UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand.

"I see a very important role for the church, in giving a message to the people, not only with respect to democracy but also to give confidence to people as individuals or as groups (and) that is very important," he said.

His esteem for the church is so high that Gusmao, the former guerrilla leader turned president, paid tribute to the church during his acceptance speech following the April 14 presidential election.

More than 90 percent of East Timor's 740,000 people are Catholic. The Catholic Church played a crucial role in the country's 24-year struggle for independence from Indonesia.

"I register here my enormous appreciation for their dedication to the civic education process, in providing to our people the necessary information and support for a better understanding of the importance of their participation in the democratic way of life," Gusmao said.

"Now, the church must play an equally important part in building an independent nation. East Timor's civil society is still only an 'embryo,'" he added.

"We have to start everything (and) the church can help this process in a very important way," Gusmao said.

"The church has no bias, and people believe in it," he said.

In 1992, Gusmao was arrested by Indonesian military and jailed for seven years. He was released after the 1999 U.N.-sponsored referendum on independence.

Gusmao took his oath of office May 19, just before the midnight declaration of East Timor's statehood.

Gusmao said he would focus on "democracy, stability and development" as well as "national unity and reconciliation." He promised to speak for the people.

Recalling the presidential campaign and peaceful election, Gusmao said, this "gives us a good basis for the future -- in the process of building a democratic state."

However, there was "a phenomenon, a mentality of opposition in every aspect of life," perhaps a legacy of the 24 years of resistance to Indonesian rule, he noted, adding that he believes this will change.

Gusmao said he wanted East Timor to develop good regional and international relationships, and he was aware of the tensions that might arise with some countries given his strong pro-democracy stance.

During his election campaign, he visited East Timorese refugees in neighboring Indonesia.

"We began the reconciliation process with high-level meetings, with politicians, but we didn't see any effect. That was why we started a new phase, which involved going to the border and talking to the people," he said.

Reconciliation, Gusmao said, is "for all who were involved in the violence in 1999," when pro-Indonesian militias ravaged East Timor.

The refugees, he added, "must come back now," and then those who perpetrated the violence could return.


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