E. Timor Leader and Refugees Return
Oct. 22, 1999
DILI, East Timor (AP) _ In an overwhelmingly emotional homecoming, exiled guerrilla chieftain Jose Alexandre ``Xanana'' Gusmao returned to his ravaged capital today and was greeted by a crowd of thousands who wept, cheered and roared: ``Viva East Timor!''
The arrival of the charismatic rebel leader, who is likely to become East Timor's first president, is for many here the most powerful symbol yet of the territory's coming independence, and of an end to its bloody quarter-century struggle to break free of Indonesia.
``We have shown the whole world, we have shown Indonesia, we have shown ourselves that we have the courage to fight for independence for 25 years,'' Gusmao, bareheaded and clad in military fatigues, told a crowd of about 5,000 ragged people packed into a seaside plaza in front of the whitewashed, Portuguese colonial-era governor's office.
``It has been a very difficult struggle,'' said the 53-year-old rebel leader with graying hair and beard, often sounding and looking on the verge of tears. ``Our sorrow has lasted too long.''
Many in the crowd wept with him, but jubilation predominated. People danced up and down with excitement, held up children to catch a glimpse of Gusmao, and waved the parasols they had brought to shield themselves from the blazing sun. Old women pounded on homemade drums to celebrate.
Gusmao, who was secretly flown back into East Timor on Thursday night by the peacekeeping forces who arrived a month ago, urged the world to help rebuild the province, which was devastated in a rampage by Indonesian forces and their militia allies after it voted for independence.
``There is much to do to recover, to save our homeland, to save ourselves,'' he told the crowd, speaking in the indigenous Tetum language. ``All of us must try to let go of the bad things they have done to us. Tomorrow is ours.''
Gusmao was joined on the podium where he spoke by Taur Matan Ruak, who commanded the pro-independence Falintil rebel group in Gusmao's absence.
Ordinary East Timorese learned of his arrival just two hours before he spoke, when loudspeaker trucks drove through the city streets announcing he would give a speech.
People streamed toward the seafront plaza on scooters, on foot and in ramshackle trucks and cars, but many were still arriving when the 25-minute speech ended. One old man who got there too late to hear Gusmao speak burst into tears.
Gusmao was flown from Darwin, Australia, to Baucau, East Timor, in a Royal Australian Air Force C-130 Hercules on Thursday night and then taken to Dili, the capital, in a U.S. Blackhawk helicopter, peacekeeping commander Maj. Gen. Peter Cosgrove said.
Cosgrove called it a ``joyous day for the people of East Timor'' and praised Gusmao as statesman and a ``wise and mature'' leader.
Roque Rodrigues, chief of staff of Gusmao's resistance movement, said in Darwin that the group had kept Gusmao's movements secret for security reasons.
Gusmao was captured by Indonesian troops in 1992 and sentenced to life imprisonment. Earlier this year he was placed under house arrest as part of a U.N.-sponsored deal to settle the ongoing conflict in East Timor.
After East Timor's 850,000 people voted overwhelmingly for independence in an Aug. 30 referendum, he was released and made the rounds of Western capitals appealing for international intervention in the territory.
Following the deadly rampage by pro-Indonesia militias, the United Nations authorized an international peacekeeping force that arrived in East Timor on Sept. 20 to restore order.
Gusmao's arrival comes two days after the Indonesian parliament endorsed the results of East Timor's independence referendum, effectively relinquishing control of the province.
Security was heavy, and armored personnel carriers were stationed around the square. Scores of peacekeepers wearing full combat gear patrolled the area, and troops stationed on the balconies kept watch with binoculars, guns at the ready.
Gusmao is a folk hero to many East Timorese, hundreds of thousands of whom were driven from their homes in the militia rampage.
``Xanana is like our father, East Timor's father. He is here to see the suffering of the people and to find a way to help us,'' said Francisco do Rosaario, 32.
``We are very happy to see him back because we have been living in sorrow for 25 years,'' said Julieta Tilman Da Costa, 40. ``With his presence the sadness will go away.''
In other developments today, peacekeepers moved for the first time into the enclave of Oecussi, detaining 40 militiamen and seizing weaponry, Cosgrove said without specifying the number of troops deployed. Rebels have reported a spree of militia violence and killings in the enclave, which is cut off by sea and West Timorese territory from the rest of East Timor.
Nearly 2,000 refugees arrived today just after dawn aboard the first ship to carry displaced East Timorese back from West Timor. Humanitarian officials said they hoped it was the first of what will be a mass influx by ship of the estimated quarter-million refugees in West Timor.
About 9,500 have returned so far by ship, plane and overland.