|Subject: AP: East Timor President Urges
AP East Timor President Urges Patience Fri May 16, 1:08 PM ET
By MICHAEL CASEY, Associated Press Writer
DILI, East Timor - Marking the first year of independence, the president of East Timor (news - web sites) on Friday urged his impoverished countrymen to be patient, saying the government must focus on the economy and calling the past 12 months a "good lesson" for the future.
President Xanana Gusmao, a chain-smoking ex-independence fighter, said East Timor was "going in the right direction" but acknowledged widespreaad discontent.
"I'm not angry but I'm a little sad knowing we can't do everything," Gusmao said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I'm asking people to be patient, but I also must tell the government that we are supposed to serve the people ... that we need a better performance."
East Timor became independent on May 20, 2002, when the United Nations, which had administered the territory since an overwhelming vote for independence from Indonesia 2 1/2 years earlier, handed over control.
Unemployment hovers around 80 percent, the infrastructure is in shambles and gangs linked to pro-Indonesia militias continue to kill and pillage.
"The government must not just say 'we understand, but we have to do something.' People can't live like this," Gusmao said in the interview at his bombed out headquarters in the capital, Dili.
Most of the 800,000 people in East Timor, which shares an island with Indonesian West Timor, have seen little benefit from independence and remain the poorest in Asia.
Gusmao, 56, said the government should introduce programs to revitalize the country's outdated coffee industry, help small and medium businesses and pass laws to attract foreign investors.
He said the country was on the right track and that people "understand the difficulties." He said the poor economy is at least partially to blame for the looting and arson that broke out on Dec. 4 in Dili, killing at least two people.
East Timor officials also have blamed pro-Indonesia militias, disaffected former rebels who couldn't get jobs in the new police force and students outraged over the arrest of a peer for alleged gang activity.
"If everyone had jobs and could afford daily basic necessities, we would not have had (the riots)," he said.
The president said East Timor has made strides in building democracy and promoting human rights.
Gusmao, who led the country's resistance to 24 years of brutal Indonesian occupation and was imprisoned for seven years, has become an advocate of reconciliation with Indonesia and says the government should focus more on building institutions and providing jobs than trying to convict war criminals.
Local and international rights activists have criticized him for not actively supporting recent indictments filed by East Timorese prosecutors against Indonesian military officials for the violence that wracked the territory before and after the 1999 independence referendum.
Indonesian troops and their militia proxies destroyed much of the former Portuguese colony and killed up to 2,000 people during that time.
In Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, charges were filed against 18 senior security officials over the 1999 bloodshed. The tribunal so far has acquitted 11 and convicted five, who got sentences from three to 10 years — sentences condemned as lenient by local and foreign rights groups.
"We can have Wiranto in jail for life," Gusmao said, referring to the general who headed the Indonesian army at the time of the violence. "But if I don't solve the problems of my people, then what satisfaction do I have? I could be proud of having justice but people don't have food, clean water or good roads."
Gusmao's office is decorated with a photo of himself with Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri — a likely sign of the importance he places on good relations with his giant neighbor.
Also on the wall is a painting of Gusmao and other independence leaders with a fanstasy-like backdrop of a highly developed East Timor replete with resort bungalows and a futuristic office tower.
"I will only be happy when we have this," he said.
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