Subject: DJ: Gusmao: From Poet To Guerrilla Commander To President

Received from Joyo Indonesian News

Dow Jones Newswires

April 16, 2002

E. Timor's Gusmao: From Poet To Guerrilla Commander To President

Wildly popular, Gusmao, 55, has long been the symbol of East Timor's struggle for independence since it was invaded by Indonesia in 1975.

Gusmao is expected to win the historic election easily, with initial results Tuesday showing he might get about 85% of the votes cast in Sunday's ballot. Full results will be announced Wednesday.

Gusmao joined East Timor's independence movement during the heady days of 1974, following a coup in Lisbon that spelled the end of the Portuguese colonial empire.

Before that time, he admits, he was a fun-loving young man in the colony's capital, Dili. His nickname, Xanana, he says, is derived from the American 1970s rock-and-roll group, Sha Na Na (and is pronounced that way).

He wrote poetry and short stories for a local newspaper and was goalkeeper for a soccer team. While his dreams of emulating Portugal's soccer legend Eusebio never materialized, sports opened up an unexpected opportunity for him.

It brought him into contact with a group of other young, anti-colonial activists who would later play a leading role in East Timor's struggle for independence.

When Indonesian dictator Suharto, with tacit support from U.S. President Gerald Ford and then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, mounted an invasion of the tiny territory Dec. 7, 1975, Gusmao fled to the mountains with the pro-independence Falintil guerrilla group.

Although the rebels mounted fierce resistance, they were badly outgunned by the Indonesian military. About 200,000 people, almost all of them civilians, died as a result of the invasion and the ensuing guerrilla war.

Within a few years, Falintil's original leaders were dead and Gusmao took command in 1981.

He quickly demonstrated strong organizational skills and united rival pro-independence groups. He forged ties among the rebels, isolated in their mountain strongholds, and with young, urban East Timorese.

"People adore him as a leader, as a symbol of national unity," said Domingos Savio, a former independence activist.

But Gusmao's rise seemed short-lived, when in 1992 he was captured by the Indonesian military. Indonesia portrayed the arrest as dealing a deathblow to the fledging independence movement.

Instead, Gusmao continued the campaign for independence from a Jakarta jail cell, and quickly became the country's most famous political prisoner.

He organized soccer tournaments to maintain regular contact with other jailed rebels. During his seven years in prison, he learned to paint, write poetry and speak at least four languages, including Indonesian and English.

He was released in 1999, a year following the fall of Suharto, and soon after a new Indonesian administration and the U.N. held an independence referendum in East Timor.

Gusmao arrived to a hero's welcome in Dili in October 1999. But what he saw devastated him. Indonesian troops and their militia allies, angry about the massive pro-independence vote, had laid waste to much of the tiny country's infrastructure and killed hundreds of people.

U.N. administrators who arrived to quell the violence and govern the territory quickly recognized Gusmao's sway over the East Timorese. Since his arrival, they have continuously consulted with him on major decisions.

Still, Gusmao has showed himself to be a reluctant leader, saying he'd rather be a farmer or photographer.

He has threatened to withdraw from public life on several occasions over the past two years.

Now married and a father of a newborn boy, Gusmao is ready to become the first president amid independence. A man who often campaigned in T-shirt and jeans and loves playing the role of the grass-roots activist, Gusmao has promised to be more a watchdog than a political insider.

But as the country prepares for independence May 20, many East Timorese are wondering what kind of president Gusmao will make.

Since the independence ballot, Gusmao has distanced himself from Fretilin, the resistance party he once led.

Fretilin, however, dominates the country's new legislature and government. And according to the constitution, the president's role is largely a ceremonial one with real power vested in the Cabinet.

"I will use the presidency to serve as a watchdog" against government abuses, Gusmao said during the campaign.

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