Subject: SCMP/E.Timor: Warrior poet has no taste for presidential politics

South Cina Morning Post Monday, April 2, 2001


Warrior poet has no taste for presidential politics


Photo: Xanana Gusmao: frustrated

Xanana Gusmao, the leading figure in East Timor's resistance to Indonesian rule and in the UN-administered transition to independence, looks like a quitter.

Again last week, he resigned as head of the National Council, the defacto legislature. Again he said he would not run for president of his nascent nation. And again, the UN Transitional Administration for East Timor (Untaet) expressed the wish that he reconsider.

Mr Gusmao is a warrior poet, a man who fought from the jungles against Indonesia, who was imprisoned in Jakarta and who was released to help cobble together his country.

He is also, say some, part of an elite leadership in the East Timorese capital Dili which, along with the UN, cash-rich aid agencies and old friends, represents a form of neo-colonisation that is alienating the youth of East Timor.

This is probably why he resigned. His supporters say he is frustrated with endless squabbling in his umbrella political group, the National Council for Timorese Resistance (CNRT), and that he is deeply averse to becoming president of East Timor under such conditions.

He has warned that the National Council may be losing touch with the East Timorese people.

"Xanana is upset because he travels to the villages, and he sees that our people are still hungry," said Gusmao spokesperson Ines Almeida.

The new leader of the UN-appointed National Council, Jose Ramos Horta, welcomed Mr Gusmao's decision. "I'm actually pleased that he resigned," he said. "He's needed in the countryside, in the villages, to talk to the people, and that's what his function should be."

Even as a child in East Timor, Mr Gusmao was serious and reflective, recalls Mr Ramos Horta. Born on June 20, 1946, in Manatuto, East Timor, with a teacher for a father, Mr Gusmao has a sensitive side, revealed in poetry and even a stint as a trainee priest.

Indonesia's invasion in December 1975 sent Mr Gusmao to the hills, where he was a renowned guerilla fighter and symbol of hope to his people.

His arrest in 1992 saved him from death and gave him time in Jakarta jails and house arrest to read, connect with allies, and think about how East Timor could one day be free.

His freedom in 1999, after months in which world leaders such as South Africa's Nelson Mandela visited him, lead to a tearfully triumphant return to Dili.

Here was a man admired by foreigners and East Timorese alike, who could propel the vital process of national reconciliation after decades of victimisation and hate.

His standing was undented by a second marriage, to Australian activist Kirsty Sword, in July last year. They now have a baby, and Ms Sword Gusmao is pressing the international community on the condition of East Timor's rape victims.

In the week that her husband resigned from the National Council's leadership, she was in Geneva highlighting concerns about the sexual enslavement of women by militia bosses in West Timor.

The young family faced an alleged assassination attempt in early March this year, and Mr Gusmao sought medical attention in Singapore recently. With the fate of a nation so tied to the actions of one man, the family is likely to face more pressure.

Far from indicating a loss of interest in his nation's future, his quitting of posts last week may well free him to forge links with the majority of East Timorese who have yet to translate planned independence into self-determination.

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