Subject: AU: Books before bullets, urges Jose

The Australian

May 21, 2007

Books before bullets, urges Jose

Stephen Fitzpatrick, Jakarta correspondent

EAST Timor's new President, Jose Ramos Horta, has urged his divided people to ''replace revenge with books and computers'' to solve the tiny country's urgent problems.

Speaking at his inauguration ceremony in the capital, Dili, yesterday, Mr Ramos Horta warned that unless youth gangs put aside their weapons, ''this nation will be destroyed''.

The former prime minister was taking over from founding president Kay Rala ''Xanana'' Gusmao, who ended his five-year term as head of state yesterday on the fifth anniversary of East Timor's independence from neighbouring Indonesia.

Mr Gusmao was shortly afterwards formally appointed head of the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), a political party he intends to use as a springboard to election at parliamentary polls on June 30.

In a carefully crafted speech aimed at the more than 500,000 voters who will elect 88 parliamentary representatives at that poll, Mr Ramos Horta urged East Timorese to remember that only a strong government would ensure their future.

''On the issue of stability, the government is the one that must guarantee this,'' he said, adding that he would work ''with the church and other religions to solve our problems''.

The reference was aimed directly at the ruling Fretilin party and its chairman, former prime minister Mari Alkatiri, a Muslim who is perceived as being antagonistic towards the church in overwhelmingly Catholic East Timor.

Fretilin was trounced at this month's run-off presidential election and faces serious defeat at the legislative polls. Mr Ramos Horta is missing no opportunity to campaign for a change of administration.

His hope is that Mr Gusmao will take the CNRT to government, with the former guerilla hero then leading the nation as prime minister. The two men and their supporters are promising a huge infrastructure and welfare funding expansion and a liberalised investment regime should their plan come to fruition.

''I will ask for additional budgetary measures to address the problems of the poor, the veterans, education and the little people,'' Mr Ramos Horta said, in a hook certain to catch the attention of East Timor's remarkably sophisticated electorate.

East Timor has more than $US1 billion ($1.2 billion) in oil and gas dividends invested in a New York petroleum fund set up by the Fretilin administration. The money has become something of a pot of gold for political foes to tussle over.

Mr Ramos Horta was sworn in yesterday by his defeated opponent in the presidential race, parliamentary speaker Francisco ''Lu Olo'' Guterres.

Despite its earlier claims to have had the presidential election in the bag even before voting started, Fretilin has been gracious in defeat and appears to have kept a check on the expected gang violence.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated the new leader, noting that Mr Ramos Horta's ''relationship with the (UN) is already solid and long-standing'' and that he ''(looked) forward to working with him over the coming years''.

Mr Ramos Horta also described the farcical hunt for renegade former military policeman Alfredo Alves Reinado as ''not just a legal problem but also a political one''.

Reinado has offered to give himself up to East Timorese authorities and face justice over murder and weapons theft charges, but only if the Australian-led military campaign against him is abandoned.

Mr Ramos Horta's inauguration was attended by dignitaries including Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda, who said afterwards that the two countries' most pressing problem was their joint land border.

The border is periodically closed down, with reports of the fugitive Reinado's presence nearby and even hiding in Indonesian west Timor, as well as problems with smuggling and the illegal movement of people.

Mr Ramos Horta said the strengthening of bilateral ties would continue to be managed through the much-criticised Friendship and Reconciliation Commission, a panel designed to heal the wounds of the 1999 split from Indonesia, but largely impotent because it cannot force prosecutions.

The UN has refused to participate in the panel because of its insistence that it should be allowed to grant amnesty to alleged human rights violators.


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