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United Nations - East Timorese independence leader Xanana Gusmao on Tuesday gave a spirited defence of the United Nations' decision to hold a ballot in the territory despite the bloodshed that ensued.
In his first visit to the world body, Gusmao said East Timorese had been facing violence in hopes of attaining the right to decide their future since the invasion of the Indonesian army in 1975. That commitment was expressed in the August 30 vote for independence.
Gusmao said he had spoken to Jakarta's foreign minister, Ali Alatas, who "recognised that this level of violence shocked even the Indonesian government".
"The whole world did not expect this to happen and that includes Indonesia itself," Gusmao told a news conference.
"We were determined to take every single risk just to guarantee that we would achieve our aims and to tell the world we had fought for a sacred goal and aims," he said.
"We fought for 23 years for this opportunity and throughout that period we faced all sorts of challenges, dangers. We faced a huge amount of suffering, a huge death toll just to gain this right to self-determination," Gusmao said after meeting Kofi Annan, the secretary general of the United Nations.
Gusmao, widely expected to be president of East Timor when it attains independence, was a guerrilla commander in the territory until 1992 when he was captured and spent seven years in a Jakarta jail.
He was put under house arrest in February and released in mid-August after which he took refuge in the British Embassy and then went to Darwin, Australia.
Gusmao said he wanted to return to East Timor but had been advised the security situation was still too dangerous.
He said he realised the United Nations was being criticised for going ahead with the vote despite warnings of violence by pro-Jakarta militia who, supported by the Indonesian army, went on a killing, looting and scorched earth spree as soon as the vote was announced.
An Australian-led international force has now entered the former Portuguese colony to subdue the violence.
But Gusmao said the criticism of the United Nations was unfair. Only now television cameras were transmitting the bloodshed, he said. "But for 25 years no one knew what was happening. We were taking risks on our own."
Jose Ramos-Horta, the exiled Timorese resistance leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who accompanied Gusmao, said they had asked UN leaders for recognition of the Timorese National Council of Resistance because of the legitimacy it gained in last month's ballot.
He said other groups, such as the African National Congress under the South African white-minority government, had a special UN General Assembly status before they ever ran for office.
"We expect to be consulted at every level and to participate actively in the transition period," Ramos-Horta said.
He added that he and Gusmao would visit the World Bank later this week as well as donor nations to ask for an assessment mission for the reconstruction of the territory.
Of discussions at the United Nations, Ramos-Horta said he had appealed for faster deployment of the multinational force so the Timorese could be protected and the 200 000 who were forcibly removed to East Timor could return home.
The United Nations by the end of the year expects to field its own peacekeepers in East Timor and initiate a transition period toward independence.
Conciliatory toward Jakarta, Gusmao said he told Indonesia's Alatas that "we can hold hands with the Indonesian government and help them regain a different image with the international community".
He said Indonesia pledged to help repatriate the refugees from West Timor and assess the immediate needs of the territory: basic infrastructure, telecommunications, sanitation and water supply.
Gusmao said that Alatas indicated that the violence had spun out of control and that Jakarta officials "were greatly shocked by the violence in East Timor and that they never thought it would reach such a dimension". - Reuters