Subject: FT: East Timor resistance seeks links with Portugal

Financial Times Thursday October 7 1999

EAST TIMOR: Resistance seeks links with Portugal

By David Buchan, Diplomatic Editor, in London, and Ted Bardacke in Bangkok

East Timorese resistance leaders said yesterday their people placed particular trust in Portugal, the territory's former colonial ruler, and urged the United Nations to give Lisbon a bigger role in their transition to independence.

At a press conference in London, Xanana Gusmao also stressed that his Falintil guerrilla movement should be allowed to keep its arms until all Indonesian soldiers had quit the territory.

Despite the fact that East Timor was abandoned by Portugal in 1975, Mr Gusmao and Jose Ramon-Horta, the Nobel peace prize winning independence leader, made clear they did not want the UN to ignore Portuguese offers of help just because it might smack of neo-colonialism to fellow Asians.

Mr Ramon-Horta complained that the UN was reluctant to accept Portugal's offer to contribute 1,000 troops to the initial Interfet peace-keeping force, for fear it would offend Asian countries. This, he said, was in the spite of the fact that "if there is one country the East Timorese people trust, it is Portugal".

Mr Ramon-Horta said he and Mr Gusmao wanted Kofi Annan, UN secretary general, to appoint a Portuguese deputy administrator of the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor which is to steer the territory to independence in 2-3 years' time.

During this time, East Timor needed an interim currency. If East Timor became a temporary ward of Portugal under UN administration, the best currency option, Mr Ramon-Horta said, would be the Portuguese escudo. A strong central bank would be needed to back the interim currency, and "only the Portuguese are ready to support this", he said.

However, the issue of a currency is far from being decided. Some people in the East Timor exile community, along with international advisers, are considering the arguments for the province having its own currency; others are thinking about adopting the Australian, US or Singapore currencies.

After his swing through Europe that included a three-day trip to Portugal, Mr Gusmao, who is expected to become East Timor's first elected president, said he planned to go first to Darwin, and then to East Timor "in the second half of October".

East Timor's spiritual leader, Bishop Carlos Belo, arrived home yesterday a month after fleeing pro-Jakarta militias.

He appealed for international help for his homeland, where hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes and are short of food, water and medicine. "I hope. . . the international community can work hard to establish lasting peace in this land."

Two militiamen were killed by members of the Australia-led multinational force in East Timor yesterday, in the first use of "lethal force" by the UN-backed force. Two Australian soldiers were also hurt slightly as the militia ambushed a military convoy.


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