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The BBC's Jill McGivering
"A symbolic moment"
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Chris Lom, Intl Organisation for Migration
"Many are still afraid to return"
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Saturday, 12 February, 2000, 14:15 GMT
East Timorese cheer Portuguese president

President meets East Timorese man The president meets a member of the East Timorese guard of honour

Portugal's President Jorge Sampaio was given a rousing reception when he arrived in East Timor for the first visit by a Portuguese head of state since the former colonial power pulled out in 1974.

"I bring a message of Portuguese solidarity and, to all of you, my friendship," he told a cheering crowd after inspecting an airport honour guard of about 300 bare-chested East Timorese warriors.

Xanana Gusmao with the president Xanana Gusmao (right) joined the president on his arrival
Portugal's withdrawal from the territory in 1974 after almost 400 years of colonial rule was promptly followed by Indonesia's invasion and decades of human rights abuse and guerrilla war which only ended last year.

During his three-day stay, President Sampaio will meet East Timorese independence leaders and UN administrators to discuss how to rebuild the half-island territory.

Indonesian soldiers and their militia allies went on a campaign of looting, burning and killing after the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly in a UN-sponsored ballot last year to break away from Indonesia.

East Timor
Mr Sampaio is scheduled to attend a Roman Catholic Mass later on Saturday given by Nobel peace laureate Bishop Carlos Belo.

On Sunday, he is to hold talks with East Timorese independence leader Xanana Gusmao and the senior UN official in the territory, Sergio Vieira de Melo.

The UN has taken over administration of East Timor for a three-year transitional period to prepare for self-rule.

In addition to millions of dollars in aid, Portugal is contributing 700 troops to a 9,000-strong UN-assembled peacekeeping force.

The force will replace Australian-led peacekeepers deployed after violence swept East Timor after the vote.

Emotional ties

Although Portugal was accused of abandoning its former colony in 1974, many East Timorese still maintain strong emotional ties with it.

Portuguese leaders campaigned tirelessly to give the East Timorese people a say in their own affairs, and it was only after extended talks with Indonesia at the United Nations that Jakarta allowed the territory a referendum on independence.

On Friday, Mr Gusmao announced that Portuguese will be the official language of East Timor.

He said on Saturday that President Sampaio's visit "helps the tradition that already exists between our two countries and assures us that the tradition will continue."

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See also:
01 Feb 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Timor tribunal on hold
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
25 Aug 99 |  East Timor
Portugal's obsession with Timor

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