Subject: Gusmao may snub Howard

The Australian 27 Nov 99

Gusmao may snub PM

By SIAN POWELL in Aileu, East Timor

EAST Timorese independence leader Xanana Gusmao indicated yesterday that he might not meet John Howard when the Prime Minister makes his first visit to the territory tomorrow.

While acknowledging his gratitude for Australia's financial commitment to East Timor, Mr Gusmao said his first priority was to travel to Jakarta for negotiations on the speedy return of the remaining thousands of East Timorese refugees in West Timor.

"I have already expressed my gratitude in Canberra to the Government. Of course we need help, but if the situation is improving, we need other help (besides the massive security presence of Interfet)," he said.

Mr Gusmao also urged Interfet to wind down the size of its garrison in Dili and remove the armoured personnel carriers, the sandbagged emplacements and the razor-wire defences that dominate the city.

"(Interfet chief) General Cosgrove told me days ago and told (UN chief administrator) Sergio de Mello that they will initiate to move (some of the defence presence) outside the city, and I believe the general himself is already aware of the situation," he said. "Moving will give the city a new image."

After a rocky start relations with Interfet had improved, he said.

"We always respect each other and try to co-ordinate movements," he said. "We have not so many problems between Falintil and Interfet."

Yet, he said, the perceptions of Falintil and Interfet differed as to what was needed, because Interfet consisted of regular army troops and Falintil was a guerilla army.

Mr Gusmao said he was astonished by the size of Australia's financial commitment to East Timor. "It's so much money, so much money," he said.

"What we need for our population is $25 to $30 million to buy the necessary things for our people, and we will solve the emergency."

Sitting on the verandah of his home in the Falintil cantonment of Aileu, Mr Gusmao said he did not want East Timor to be a burden to the international community.

"It's a very, very expensive operation," he said. "I think that if the Prime Minister sees the situation, how security is now, the parliament can decide to diminish the expense."

Falintil fighters, he said, could be used at the border to allow for the reduction of the Interfet security presence.

"From the beginning, we have offered our contribution," he said. "We know, and everybody knows, that we fought for this land, and that we are ready to die for this country, and we offer our contribution to the Interfet defence."

An Indonesian team investigating human rights atrocities has uncovered the bodies of 26 people including priests, women and children who were killed in a church massacre in East Timor, from three mass graves in West Timor.

The bodies were exhumed from seaside graves three kilometres from the border, an investigator from the Commission for the Investigation of Human Rights Abuses in East Timor said.

The 26 are believed to have been among of hundreds of East Timorese who were massacred during a militia and military attack on a church in Suai in September.

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