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interview with Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao

In April 2002, Xanana Gusmao becomes the first elected president of Timor Leste (East Timor) after winning a landslide vote. At midnight on May 19, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan hands the government over to President Gusmao and declares Timor Leste independent. In September of that year, the country became the 191st member of the United Nations.

Timor Leste's independence followed a 450-year history of occupation by foreign forces, the latest being its neighbor Indonesia, which invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975. Armed insurgents soon made life difficult for the Indonesian occupying forces. Among the rebel leaders is Xanana Gusmao who was captured by Indonesian forces in 1996 and imprisoned in Jakarta. He is released in 1999, following the ouster of Indonesian President Suharto and prior to the UN-organized referendum that led to the separation of East Timor from Indonesia. An orgy of violence by pro-Indonesian militias caused the deaths of hundreds of Timorese and left a trail of destruction in their wake. UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET) maintained about a thousand peacekeepers in East Timor since 2002. On May 20 this year, the UN withdrew the last of its peacekeepers from East Timor. A small UN staff of about 70 political, military and police advisers will stay on for another year.

Timor Leste's 1,040,880 population face great challenges in continuing the rebuilding of infrastructure, strengthening the infant civil administration, and generating jobs for young people entering the workforce. One promising long-term project is the planned development of oil and gas resources in nearby waters, which have begun to supplement government revenues ahead of schedule.

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Interview with Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao,
Yuli Ismartono [time 30:26]

President Xanana Gusmao became the country's first president since it gained independence in May, 2002. Although President Gusmao spent most of his life fighting for his country's independence, he is known as a proponent of peace and reconciliation. Today, he devotes his time and energy to rebuilding Timor Leste after years of conflict. He is also known as a charismatic leader, because he is a poet, and has written an autobiography called "To Resist is To Win".

Yuli Ismartono: Welcome to our program, The LEADERS. I'm Yuli Ismartono from AsiaViews. We are in Dilli, capital of Timor Leste, to chat with His Excellency, President Xanana Gusmao.You have now led Timor Leste for close to three years. In your view, what have been the biggest challenges?

Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao: The big challenge now is to build the state institutions, and of course, component in this effort, another challenge is to change the mentality of the people, in order that they understand that right now, in the beginning, we need to sacrifice, we need to do everything that we can to strengthen the state institutions. I believe, fundamentally, these two are the big challenges we face now.

YI: And what are the development priorities for your country?

Gusmao: According to standards of the international community, education is the priority, but for us, right from the beginning it is culture. And because of the lack of economic development, small and medium enterprises, should be a priority. But we are also putting more money into education, in health, taking into account that we have to develop everything from zero. The big challenge now is how to deliver jobs to our population. We are a little bit more than nine hundred thousand, more than half of this population are youths, and almost fifty percent are under twenty; this is a problem of having so many thousands of youths without employment, without jobs, this is the priority - jobs.

YI: So education, and job-creating programs.

Gusmao: Yes, and culture.

YI: Timor Leste is rich in natural resources, how important will oil and gas be to the future of Timor Leste?

Gusmao: Very important, not only for the future, but in the medium term. We are being assisted by the international community, we have a small budget, a little bit more than 130 million a year. But we are losing one million a day, because we have, we claim the right of oil fields that Australia is exploiting, we are losing one million a day. The money coming from the oil, will make a big difference. We can do what we want, what we need.

YI: And how long will that be?

Gusmao: We hope that in the next three years, maybe we can start receiving 100 million a year, from another field.

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Presonal Plofile
Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao,
President Jose Alexandre 'Xanana' Gusmao, Timor Leste's first chief executive, was born in Laleia, Manatuto in former East Timor on June 20, 1946. He received his education from Catholic seminaries before becoming a civil servant under the Portuguese colonial government. In 1974, when East Timor was occupied by Indonesia, Mr. Xanana joined the Fretilin (Revolutionary Front for Independence in East Timor) opposition party and escaped to the mountains to fight a war of resistance against the Indonesian authorities. He became leader of the Fretilin in 1981 but was captured by the Indonesian troops in November 1992 and imprisoned in Jakarta until the 1999 UN-organized referendum which liberated East Timor. Mr. Gusmao was elected president of Timor Leste in 2002 following the country's first independent general elections.
Yuli Ismartono Yuli Ismartono, [Interviewer]
Yuli Ismartono is an executive editor at Tempo, Indonesia's foremost weekly news magazine. Ms. Ismartono, who holds degrees in political science and journalism, has been with Tempo for 15 years, mostly assigned to covering events around the Asia region and interviewing national leaders - such as former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto, former South Korean president Kim Dae Jung,Cambodia's King Sihanouk and prime minister Hun Sen, the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and other newsmakers. She is currently in charge of Tempo's English language edition and managing editor of AsiaViews, an online and hardcopy magazine featuring news and commentaries from the Asia region, of which Tempo is a member and coordinator of the media group that publishes it.
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