Subject: SCMP: Next five years crucial in time of change: Xanana Gusmao

South China Morning Post Wednesday, October 31, 2001


Next five years crucial in time of change: Gusmao


Photo: Xanana Gusmao: relying on aid

The next five years will be crucial for East Timor's development in an uncertain world of globalisation and terrorism, according to independence leader Xanana Gusmao.

Speaking yesterday at the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Hong Kong after spending three days in Macau drumming up financial support, Mr Gusmao said he had come as a "president of the unemployed" to find business investment to build schools and infrastructure for his homeland.

Citing huge illiteracy rates in East Timor, Mr Gusmao, 55, said international assistance was vital to founding a civil service, increasing people's skills and developing infrastructure.

"Our main problem is having our people ready to run the country and government. Japan, Portugal, Australia and other countries are very willing to give us assistance in this field."

In terms of prospective industries, Mr Gusmao said: "Maybe we can't compete in quantity but we could in quality", and gave as examples tourism, fisheries, and organic coffee. Despite anticipated revenue from oil and gas, Mr Gusmao said the country would face many difficulties over the next five years and would rely heavily on international aid.

He said Macau could provide "a bridge from the mainland" without elaborating on what role China could play. Macau casino magnate Stanley Ho Hung-sun previously had investments in East Timor, but Mr Gusmao denied that casinos in East Timor had been discussed during this trip. He did not rule out gambling enterprises as a revenue earner for the future.

Asked if the United Nations Transitional Administration for East Timor could provide a model for a future government in Afghanistan, Mr Gusmao said the administration provided the East Timorese with an opportunity to calm down after the events following the election of August 1999. Mr Gusmao said the international community should push for dialogue on the Afghanistan issue.

Mr Gusmao questioned how a small country like East Timor could fit into a new world order and globalisation. Citing the September 11 attacks, he said: "We're now in a world of fear. It is my concern as a world citizen to try for world peace. "

He said the economic differences between the North and South were producing many refugees globally and he recalled how angry he was at Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock after Mr Gusmao was freed in September 1999, when Mr Ruddock refused to temporarily take in East Timorese students trapped in Jakarta, despite four students being murdered. International agencies had promised to fund the refugees' flights and accommodation before taking them back to East Timor but Mr Ruddock stuck to his decision. "I was very, very angry," he said.

Mr Gusmao's Australian wife Kirsty Sword-Gusmao said that at this very formative stage in East Timor's development, it was vital to ensure women had a say. "Twenty-four out of 88 members of the Constituent Assembly are women," she said, which compared favourably with Western democracies.

Mr Gusmao was again coy on his chances of winning the presidential election in April or May.

"I am not a prophet," he said.

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