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Jose Ramos-Horta
"The task ahead of us is enormous"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 1 December, 1999, 10:22 GMT
Exiled leader returns to Timor
Jose Ramos Horta (right) and Xanana Gusmao Ramos Horta (right) and Xanana Gusmao in Jakarta on Tuesday

Nobel peace laureate Jose Ramos Horta has returned to East Timor after 24 years in exile.

East Timor
He raised his hands triumphantly in the air after touching down at Dili airport, before being embraced by the deputy commander of the Timorese resistance fighters, Taur Matan Ruak.

Scores of people came to the airport to meet him, and a crowd was gathering to greet him along Dili's seaside promenade.

Accompanied by the head of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (Untaet), Sergio Vieira de Mello, Mr Horta was received by a welcoming committee of 37 resistance leaders.

He said he was "very, very happy" to be back.

Soldiers with the Brazilian and Australian contingents of the International Force for East Timor (Interfet) were also at the airport to provide security.

Residents in Dili have hung up street decorations in preparation for the homecoming of Mr Ramos Horta, who is regarded as foreign minister designate.


I am overwhelmed, very, very happy
Jose Ramos Horta
Mr Horta's return comes three months after East Timor voted to split from Indonesia, which annexed the province in 1976.

He said before his arrival that he intended to help in whatever way he could to build peace and reconciliation, and to continue the effort to mobilise international resources for Indonesia.

"The task ahead of us is enormous," he told the BBC.

Vocal campaigner

But Mr Horta acknowledged that he returned with mixed feelings, saying he would find a country devastated by conflict, with more than 100,000 people still unaccounted for.

Mr Horta, 49, fled East Timor a few days before the territory was invaded by the Indonesian military in 1975.

Since then, he has been a vocal campaigner for his people, travelling the world to lobby for a free East Timor.

The independence activist is the co-winner, with Roman Catholic Bishop of Dili Carlos Belo, of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize.

Era of cooperation

An Untaet spokesman said the Nobel laureate planned to stay in the territory for several weeks and participate in a student peace festival.

Wahid and Gusmao handshake President Wahid and Mr Gusmao agreed to turn the page on two decades of bloodshed
His return follows talks in Jakarta on Tuesday with the Indonesian President, Abdurrahman Wahid, who also met the East Timorese independence leader, Xanana Gusmao.

The leaders agreed to turn their backs on the violence of the past and look forward to a new era of cooperation.

"We start now a new relationship between East Timor and Indonesia," Mr Gusmao told a press conference afterwards.

"We are committed to doing our best to create a co-operative, friendly and good relationship."

Mr Horta told the BBC that it was "remarkable" that he had gone from being Indonesia's "enemy number one", to participating in a "friendly meeting" with the country's head of state.

He praised the Indonesian president, describing him as a "leader of great moral standing".

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See also:
08 Sep 99 |  East Timor
Profile: Timor's exiled leader
30 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
'New relationship' for East Timor
23 Oct 99 |  Asia-Pacific
'Day of freedom' for Timor
29 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Indonesia 'responsible' for Timor destruction
27 Oct 99 |  Asia-Pacific
UN wants $200m for East Timor
03 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
UN teams snatch Timor refugees
06 Oct 99 |  East Timor
Bishop Belo: Timor's spiritual leader

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