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East Timor Gusmao: I’ll stay as leader until 2015

September 25, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) — Veteran East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao said Thursday he’s pushing back plans to stand down as the fledgling nation’s prime minister.

Gusmao told The Associated Press in an interview that he’d intended to resign this September, but will now stay on until the first half of 2015, as East Timor grapples with disputes over oil revenues with neighboring Australia and U.S. energy giant ConocoPhillips.

He said he remained committed to transferring leadership responsibilities to a younger generation, but declined to say who might succeed him.

“If I suddenly leave without stabilizing these issues it’s like running away from your responsibility,” Gusmao said ahead of his address Thursday to the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations.

The 68-year-old Gusmao was a leader of East Timor’s 24-year resistance against a brutal Indonesian military occupation had left more than 170,000 dead. He was elected the nation’s first president after independence in 2002 and became prime minister in 2007 after internal unrest amid discord in the army.

The half-island nation is struggling with high rates of poverty and meeting post-independence expectations, but Gusmao said he did not believe there would be repeat of the unrest if the country’s elite was unified.

East Timor, a nation of 1.1 million and dwarfed by its neighbors Indonesia and Australia, is heavily dependent on petroleum revenues, which Gusmao said had put $17 billion in state coffers over the past decade.

He described relations with Indonesia, which imprisoned Gusmao for seven years during the independence struggle, as better than ever. He paid tribute to the democratization efforts of outgoing Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Ties with Australia, however, have been strained by a legal dispute over a 2006 treaty that carves up revenue from oil and gas under the sea between the countries.

“We are not desperate for more dollars, but it must be recognized that resources within our maritime borders are ours,” Gusmao said.

East Timor alleges Canberra spied in order to gain an advantage during the negotiations over the treaty. It has also taken Australia to the United Nations’ highest court in The Hague over the seizure of documents from a lawyer working for East Timor in the arbitration case.

The two nations recently agreed to try to settle those differences outside the International Court of Justice. Gusmao said if the negotiations did not yield a satisfactory response, East Timor would resume litigation.

East Timor is also in arbitration proceedings with ConocoPhillips over what it alleges are unpaid tax revenues from the company’s operations at a joint petroleum development area between Australia and East Timor.

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