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State Luncheon: East Timor President Xanana Gusmao

State Luncheon for East Timor President Xanana Gusmao

Prime Minister Helen Clark

It is a genuine pleasure to welcome Xanana Gusmao to New Zealand as the first president of independent East Timor.

President Gusmao first came to New Zealand in June 2000, less than a year after his release from prison in Indonesia and less than a year after the traumatic events which followed the vote of the East Timorese people for independence.

Xanana Gusmao's life has been one of extraordinary courage, dedication, and sacrifice in the cause of the independence of his country. In our sheltered lives in peaceful New Zealand, we can scarcely imagine the conditions he endured from the time of the invasion of East Timor in late 1975.

Xanana Gusmao was one of those who went to the hills to begin the fight back. For seventeen years, he and his fellow fighters lived a precarious existence, battling numerically superior occupying forces. Then in 1992 he was captured and sentenced to life imprisonment. He spent the next seven years in gaol, emerging as a free man when East Timor was enabled to determine its own destiny. In the first presidential elections in April this year Xanana Gusmao was elected to lead his country. It was a privilege for me to be able to attend East Timor's independence ceremony in May and see Xanana Gusmao take up the reins of office.

What I most admire about Xanana Gusmao is his capacity to forgive. He has been a leading force for reconciliation between East Timor and Indonesia, and with those who fled across the border to West Timor in 1999. After the hardship he endured in the long struggle for freedom, this spirit of forgiveness is inspirational.

With formal independence in May this year, a new chapter opened in the history of East Timor.

Over the previous two and a half years, the country was assisted by a large United Nations presence, which many nations, including New Zealand were proud to be part of. We have helped with peacekeeping, and with establishing the East Timor police, customs, and prison service. We also began a small aid programme.

Now the United Nations military presence is winding down, and New Zealand peacekeepers will leave in November as part of that process.

But what is important is that New Zealand and a wide range of other nations continue to assist East Timor on its long road to development. East Timor's economy is under-developed and its people live on some of the lowest incomes on earth. They deserve our support.

The focus of New Zealand's development assistance budget on poverty eradication fits East Timor's needs well. The recent World Summit on Sustainable Development also points the way for donor countries to focus on basic education, primary healthcare, clean water and sanitation, and economic development which is sustainable and not environmentally destructive. Timor's resources include its land, its fisheries, and the oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea. It also has a capacity for eco-tourism which I hope in time New Zealanders will be able to enjoy.

Next week East Timor will be formally accepted as a member of the United Nations. What for many years appeared a distant dream will become reality. It has come at a very high cost for many East Timorese who lost their lives, and for those like today's President who spent many of the prime years of their lives as subsistence fighters or prisoners.

Looking back on these years we will also always remember the undaunted spirit of Jose Ramos Horta, who tirelessly advocated for a free and independent Timor in the world's capitals and at the United Nations, and who, along with Bishop Carlos Bello, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Now independent East Timor's capital, Dili, is the closest Asian capital to New Zealand. That and recent history which has seen many New Zealanders play a part in East Timor's rebuilding draw us together as close neighbours and friends.

For the families of the five New Zealand servicemen whose loved ones never came home from deployment, East Timor will have a special place in their hearts and ours.

New Zealand looks forward to working with East Timor in many ways, in support of its development; as a fellow regional member of the United Nations; and as a partner in the South West Pacific dialogue. We also welcomed East Timor as an observer at the Pacific Island Forum in Suva this year.

President Gusmao, we are pleased to have you as our guest in New Zealand and look forward to a long and friendly relationship with you and the government and people of East Timor.


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