Subject: AP: Campaigning To Start In E Timor's First Presidential Poll

Also: The reluctant president

Received from Joyo Indonesian News

Campaigning To Start In E Timor's First Presidential Poll

DILI, East Timor, March 15 (AP)--Campaigning was to start Friday in East Timor for historic presidential elections that will decide the first leader of the soon to be independent nation.

Former guerrilla and independence leader Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao - the favorite to win the polls on May 14 - was scheduled to address a rally in the capital, Dili.

Fransisco Xavier do Amaral is Gusmao's only challenger.

Do Amaral was appointed East Timor's first president in 1975 when the territory's Portuguese colonial government pulled out. He served for only nine days before Indonesian forces invaded on Dec. 7, 1975.

The territory's U.N. administrator, Sergio Vieira de Mello, said Friday he was confident that the campaign period, which will end April 12, would be peaceful and fair.

"I have no reason to believe there will be any form of violence in the weeks ahead," he told reporters.

Gusmao, who was a potent symbol of resistance during decades of Indonesian rule, enjoys broad popular support and is expected to win the election. Despite this, he has several times said he doesn't want the top job.

The U.N. has been administering East Timor since it voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesian rule in a UN ballot in 1999. After the vote, sections of the Indonesian military and their militia proxies killed hundreds and destroyed much of the tiny territory.

The world body is scheduled to end its interim rule May 20, when the new head of state is to be installed, making East Timor the world's newest nation.

Gusmao, a former soccer player and journalist, joined the armed resistance against Indonesian rule and commanded the guerrilla forces in the 1980s. He was captured in 1992 and imprisoned in Jakarta for seven years.

He has distanced himself from East Timor's largest political party, Fretilin, which led the independence movement. The party won two-thirds of the votes in parliamentary elections last August but Gusmao declined to stand as their presidential candidate.

Bangkok Post March 13, 2002

The reluctant president

Xanana Gusmao led East Timor to freedom and now his new country needs him to lead it ...

Story by KATE ROPE


On May 20, a new country will be born. At the helm of the finally free East Timor will most likely be Jose Alexandre ``Xanana'' Gusmao, the reluctant but ineluctable leader of this century's first new nation. A guerilla fighter who helped win freedom for his homeland after two decades of mountain jungle battles, clandestine operations, and six years of imprisonment, Gusmao wanted his role to end there. He would rather return to pumpkin farming and poetry writing and see his country led by people not soaked in the blood of the last 25 years of struggle.

But he is also a man of his word, unswerving in his duty to the men who risked their lives under his leadership. When he finally acquiesced to run for president (on February 23, which was the deadline to declare candidacy for the April 14 election), it was, for him, the unavoidable fulfilment of an oath to his people.

Speaking to members of the Soroptimist Club of Bangkok recently, Gusmao was as mystifying as his story is compelling. Here is a man who knew how to lead a successful guerilla war with no military support and practically non-existent resources, perilously outnumbered by a merciless Indonesian regime. He understands the problems of his people and carries with him their trust. But he says he has no idea what he will do as their president, and with a month to go until the election, Gusmao is crossing his fingers in the hopes that he will lose. Almost all agree it is a useless wish for the odds-on favourite to make. Now, as before, it looks as if Xanana Gusmao will be triumphant.

At 55, Gusmao's ruggedly-sculpted face and closely-clipped greying facial hair hint at the ruffian-like bearded rebel he was when he first took up arms against the Indonesians, who had invaded East Timor shortly after it was freed from Portuguese colonial rule in 1975.

Born just after the bloody Japanese occupation of World War Two to a mother who made him ever aware of the suffering of his people, Gusmao spent four years in a Jesuit seminary and even won the East Timor poetry prize before becoming a freedom fighter, a title he eschews. ``I am not a politician. I am not a lawyer. I am not an activist,'' he told the Soroptimist Club.

Then what is he?

``Myself,'' he answered.

From jungle combat to the prospect of being a politician, his words and motives have the lyrical simplicity of a natural leader. Explaining why he chose to fight, a dangerous job many might understandably decline, he says, ``I believe you never ask a slave why he or she wants to be free. It was our right to be free, to decide our own destiny, our own fate. Being a society under oppression, you can't have certain kinds of discussion. We believe that only [when we are] free can we change everything.''

But the fight was not nearly that simple.

Gusmao joined the resistance against Indonesia in 1975. Three years later, he assumed leadership of the rebel forces just as their numbers were decimated.

``In the beginning, the first three years in the mountains, we had 27,000 armed people,'' he explained. ``In 1977 and '78, Indonesian troops started a big operation and we lost our population, lost many comrades. In 1980, I went around to all the territories to call remaining groups. The [number of fighters] was between 650 and 700 people. We were very destitute in our military capability and then we built it back up.''

And never, said Gusmao, did he think of giving up. The determination of the people fuelled his will. ``If you see people participate in the struggle, giving you their lives, accepting all sacrifices, you cannot give up, you must go. Our people gave everything. They fought, cried, suffered, laughed. And if you watch them doing everything to get freedom, you just go with them.''

That unshakeable commitment, coupled with an honesty disarming in a future president, earned him the trust of the East Timorese.

``We never, never hid news from the people. We told them everything _ bad news, good news. Then they could help us. They got us food, ammunition, medicine, clothes, they gave us everything we needed. And, if 20 on our side died, and only one of the other, we said that 20 of us died and only one on the other side. Because of this kind of true communication, they believed in us and we [were able to] organise the clandestine resistance.''

That was perhaps the genius of the campaign against Indonesia. The resistance established and nurtured contacts with civil servants in the Indonesian government and members of the Indonesian army. Those insiders fed the fighters information vital to outwitting a force that had them outnumbered and outgunned.

One member of that secret community is now poised to be the First Lady of East Timor. Kirsty Sword Gusmao, code name ``Ruby Blade'', was a young Australian aid worker who slipped intelligence to Gusmao in prison when he was finally captured in 1992. Having barely met face to face, they fell in love in a cloak-and-dagger love story. The two were married in 2000 after Gusmao divorced his first wife and Kirsty was already pregnant with their now 18-month-old son, Alexandre.

But celebrations of their romance and Gusmao's release were short-lived, coming on the heels of the most destructive offensive against East Timor yet. In September of 1999, after East Timorese had cast their votes for independence in a UN-monitored election, pro-Jakarta militias terrorised the territory, killing as many as a thousand and deporting many to West Timor, prompting the UN to send in forces and set up a transitional government.

According to Gusmao, the greatest gift of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor, which has been in place for more than three years, was creating the space and time for the East Timorese to reflect as a people.

``Without the international presence in East Timor, maybe we East Timorese could not understand each other so well,'' he says.

In preparation for his impending presidency, Gusmao began meetings last month with East Timorese to learn what they need from their new country.

``We asked them their dreams, what they want in five years, by 2020. It was wonderful to see people participate in discussions, in debates, asking the government to pay more attention to health care, education, infrastructure,'' Gusmao effuses. ``We believe that in 10, 15 years we can appear as an independent country with the people reaping the benefits of independence, not betraying the sacrifices they made on the way, not betraying their suffering.''

Living up to the lives lost will be no easy task for Gusmao and is perhaps a reason for his reticence, though he has never shrunk from a fight. East Timor suffers from 60 percent unemployment, almost half the population is under the age of 14, infrastructure necessary to develop the economy is mangled from years of fighting, and the hope of the people has been obliterated.

Perhaps the thorniest issue before Gusmao is justice and reconciliation between the victims of the militias and former militia members. On this point, Gusmao has, in the past, talked more about being willing to forgive than putting people in prison, making him, again, an unlikely and unusual world leader.

At the Soroptimist Club luncheon, Gusmao was hit with very specific questions from the journalists in the crowd, ``Is there a timeline for East Timor to join Asean?'' ``Will East Timor recognise the government of Burma?''

With smiles and jokes he dodged almost every bullet.

``I am not the foreign minister,'' he offered at one point. ``So, you wish to make trouble between Burma and us?'' he asked another, laughing, quickly exiting the podium having offered few concrete answers.

He is a man of the people, and that is where his loyalty lies.

Gusmao's humility is a great part of why he has no presidential aspirations. ``I am telling people to cut the present from the past,'' he said. ``I am now the chairman of the Association of the Veterans of the Resistance, 18,000 members. From the beginning of the UN administration, we adopted a policy in which we would never take advantage of the situation by occupying big houses or asking for privileges. We keep to ourselves. Nobody fought for individual purpose but for a common purpose, for the future.''

But, in the end, it was his duty to the veterans that pushed him back into the spotlight. ``I was asked to run, and I could not avoid it. It was something that was a moral and political obligation for me to accomplish. I gave my oath to my soldiers that I would not run from any place, any position. But, I would rather not win,'' he said.

Nor does he know yet what he will do as president. ``I don't know how to be president,'' Gusmao said frankly. Has he talked to any other leaders about how to do it? ``I don't have the money to fly around and talk to presidents,'' he replied, laughing and feigning insult at the question.

Is he scared or nervous about the job? ``Not scared. Not nervous. Unhappy.''

What kind of a president will he make if he is unhappy? ``I believe that if you are unhappy, you can understand the unhappiness of all your people. If you are happy, you don't care.''

And Gusmao does understand intimately what is wrong with his country: East Timor is not yet free.

``We have a flag, a parliament, a president, a government. People are free. But free from what? There are many aspects to eradicate _ illiteracy, poverty, illness, many, many things. We are free from colonialisation and other states. We need to free people from different states, from suffering.''

For her part, Kirsty Sword Gusmao said she anticipated being a Hillary Clinton-type first lady. She has several social issues on her agenda and has already created a foundation for the women victimised during 25 years of militia terror.

After the luncheon, Kirsty hardly resembled the image-conscious Clinton. Seated comfortably in a billowy red blouse, her long hair hanging about a face that was barely made-up and yet striking, she was tending to a squirming Alexandre whose patience had just about run out with the day's activities.

Did they make the decision, as a family, as to whether Gusmao would run?

``Of course!'' her husband said. ``We're a democracy!''

Kirsty seemed to see it differently. ``I didn't give my advice. I knew it wouldn't count,'' she said with a small smile.

As they reassembled the diaper bag, searched for Gusmao's Marlboros, and prepared to leave, there was just time for one more question: Was her husband, today, the same man that she met in prison?

``He's one and the same man,'' she said, after a pause for thought, ``but with a whole new set of demands placed on him.''

Back to March menu

World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from