East Timor Leaders To Stay On
DILI, East Timor (AP) _ In a dramatic turnaround, East Timor independence leader Alexandre ``Xanana″ Gusmao and Nobel peace laureate Jose Ramos-Horta vowed Sunday to stay on at the head of the territory’s main political group.
Earlier Sunday, they had said they would leave their posts as president and co-vice president of the National Council of Timorese Resistance, an umbrella organization of competing pro-independence groups.
But after listening to impassioned pleas from the council, they changed their minds.
``I will remain, as it is apparently what the people want,″ Ramos-Horta said. ``And Xanana, he will stay as well.″
``I totally underestimated the emotional response. I thought I could leave discreetly without anyone noticing,″ he told reporters.
Many people in the half-island territory believe that Gusmao, a charismatic guerrilla leader imprisoned by Indonesian occupiers for about a decade, will become East Timor’s first president when the territory finally achieves independence.
Hundreds of people died and much of the half-island territory was devastated when anti-independence militias and Indonesian soldiers went on a rampage after the territory voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia in a U.N.-sponsored referendum Aug. 30, 1999.
Order was restored only after an international peacekeeping force arrived and Indonesian troops withdrew. East Timor and its 600,000 people are preparing for full independence under a transitional U.N. administration.
The council, which has bogged down in infighting as it attempts to draft a new political system for the territory, is scheduled to elect a new leadership this week.
Both Gusmao and Ramos-Horta are known to be unhappy about growing factionalism within the group.
It is unclear whether the two are sticking to plans to stand for office when East Timor holds its first national elections next year as part of a U.N.-supervised transition to full independence.
Gusmao recently quit as head of East Timor’s guerrilla force, Falintil.