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Wednesday, 2 February, 2000, 20:35 GMT
Gusmao turns down Timorese presidency

Xanana Gusmao Xanana Gusmao: Who will fill his shoes?

By Jonathan Head in Bangkok

The East Timorese independence leader, Xanana Gusmao, has said he will not be his country's first president when it becomes independent despite a widespread belief that he is the only man qualified to take on the role.

Speaking to the BBC in Bangkok on the latest stage of a tour of east Asian countries, Mr Gusmao said his job was to oversee East Timor's transition to independence but that other candidates should be found to lead the country after that.

The East Timorese leader enjoys unrivalled popularity in his country.

We must find other people who are more prepared to lead the country to a more prosperous future
Xanana Gusmao
When he returned to the territory last October after spending seven years in Indonesian jails, he was welcomed as a hero and a saviour.

But he has long insisted that he is more comfortable in the role of freedom fighter than that of political leader.

Now he has ruled out leading East Timor once it reaches independence after a two-year transition period under UN administration.

He said: "During those two years we must find other people who are more prepared to lead the country to a more prosperous future."

Pro-independence divisions

His announcement will stun his countrymen who are faced with the herculean task of re-building East Timor from scratch.

Already there have been violent protests over the way the UN is distributing precious jobs in the territory.

Aerial photo of East Timor East Timor was devastated by pro-Indonesian forces
Resentment of those who have returned from exile abroad is high among the Timorese who suffered under Indonesian rule.

As a result, the main pro-independence movement, the CNRT, which is in effect an embryonic ruling party, is badly divided. Only the charismatic Mr Gusmao seems able to hold it together.

But the years of struggle against Indonesia's occupation and the relentless diplomatic activity of the past few months, have left him visibly exhausted.

The East Timorese must now contemplate finding someone else to fill his shoes.

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See also:
10 Dec 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Calls for UN tribunal on Timor
29 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Indonesia 'responsible' for Timor destruction
27 Oct 99 |  Asia-Pacific
UN wants $200m for East Timor
23 Oct 99 |  Asia-Pacific
'Day of freedom' for Timor
08 Sep 99 |  East Timor
Analysis: Gusmao's key role

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