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Wednesday, 8 August, 2001, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
Gusmao meets E Timor militias
East Timorese boy holding a flag of one of the parties running in the election
Election campaigning is getting underway
East Timor's pro-independence leader Xanana Gusmao has met pro-Indonesian militia leaders and urged them to return to East Timor and take part in the country's first elections later this month.

The previously unannounced meeting took place on Tuesday on the border between East Timor and the Indonesian-held western half of the island, the United Nations said.

East Timor's pro-independence leader Xanana Gusmao
Xanana Gusmao was jailed during the Suharto regime
East Timor, currently administered by the UN, voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia in a 1999 referendum.

Pro-Jakarta militia groups responded by killing hundreds of people and destroying most of East Timor's infrastructure and buildings.

International peacekeeping troops intervened in September 1999 and most of the militiamen fled to West Timor, which is still under Indonesian control.

Reconciliation meeting

On Tuesday, Mr Gusmao met about 300 militia members in the village of Salele, on the border between East and West. It was the latest in a series of such meetings aimed at national reconciliation, said the UN.

"The number of participants was unexpected and unprecedented, but the community wanted to come en masse to talk," said Nagalingam Parameswaran, a senior UN official who organised the event.

Mr Gusmao, who is widely tipped to become the first president of East Timor when it becomes fully independent next year, has said that he supports the idea of giving amnesties to former militiamen.

"Xanana is respected at the highest level by the pro-Jakarta leaders and he has the ability to bring the community together," said Mr Parameswaran.

Although most refugees who fled the fighting have since been repatriated, the UN says about 50,000 people are still living in camps in West Timor. The majority have links with the former Indonesian administration or militia groups.

The 30 August elections are for East Timor's new assembly.

Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 after the collapse of Portuguese colonial rule. In October the UN is due to consider its future role in the country.

N. Parameswaran, a senior UN official
helped to organise the meetings
See also:

30 Aug 00 | East Timor
Analysis: Gusmao's key role
30 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
UN rethinks East Timor role
17 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
Shadowy militias of East Timor
25 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Annan backs extended Timor UN mission
09 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
UN tests West Timor safety
04 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
UN condemns Timor trial 'mockery'
28 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Timor refugees dying of hunger
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