Subject: AP: E. Timor Leader Backs Quick Iraq Handover

September 24, 2003

E. Timor Leader Backs Quick Iraq Handover


SAGADATE, East Timor (AP) -

The international community should draw on experience gained in East Timor to help guide Iraq to democracy with the help of the United Nations, the president of the world's newest country said Wednesday.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, President Alexandre Jose "Xanana" Gusmao said he supported swiftly handing over sovereignty to an Iraqi governing council.

"The U.N. role ... should be that of a mediator, helping the interim government fulfill the wishes of the Iraqi people," he said. "Involvement in decision-making must be quickly assured to the Iraqi people."

President Bush told the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday he favors a Security Council resolution that would give the world body an expanded role in reconstructing Iraq, but stuck to his plan for an unhurried transition to democracy.

Hundreds of villagers turned out in Sagadate, 100 miles east of the capital, to meet Gusmao and discuss community problems. Dancers adorned with feathered headdresses and carrying spears and swords performed a traditional ceremony for the president.

Gusmao and Sergio Vieira de Mello, who served for three years as the U.N.'s de facto governor of East Timor, fine-tuned the world body's role in bringing the territory to independence after three centuries of Portuguese colonial rule and 24 years of Indonesian occupation.

Vieira de Mello, U.N. mission chief in Iraq, was killed in a truck bomb last month in Baghdad.

Gusmao noted that when the U.N. arrived in East Timor, the mission had a wide mandate from the U.N. Security Council allowing it to govern without any input from local political leaders.

"But Sergio (Vieira de Mello) proved very flexible and quickly realized that he had to create a partnership with the Timorese if he wanted to succeed. He brought us in and allowed us a much greater role than envisioned by the Security Council," Gusmao said of the late envoy.

Gusmao noted East Timor and Iraq are different in many ways.

"We had never been a sovereign state, a nation. Iraq is, and has been for a long time," he told AP. "Our people were poor and illiterate, and needed more help from the world community, but the Iraqis are already capable of taking responsibility."

When the United Nations arrived in East Timor in early 2000, the half-island territory of 750,000 people had been devastated by the retreating Indonesians, who - after an independence referendum - killed nearly 2,000 civilians, displaced half the population, destroyed much of the infrastructure and burned two-thirds of the buildings in their former province.

Under Vieira de Mello, the U.N. mission established a new administration and judiciary, as well as a police force and army, and held the first democratic elections before handing over control on May 20, 2002.

Gusmao said his priority now is to educate his people to involve themselves in civil society and the governing process.

"They must understand that what this country becomes will depend upon them. Others can advise us, but we are the ones who will choose our own future. The Iraqis have that same right."

"To be successful in Iraq, the U.N. must adapt," Gusmao added. "My advice now is: listen to the people on the ground, like Sergio did."

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