After seven years of imprisonment and exile, guerrilla leader Xanana Gusmao made a triumphant return to East Timor and addressed his people this morning, urging them to revel in their newfound independence but to refrain from retribution as they rebuild their lives after weeks of violence.
"Today we finally find our liberation," Gusmao told more than 5,000 people who gathered in front of the governor's mansion here in the capital and cheered his every sentence. "Today we can see the future, our homeland, our East Timor."
Gusmao, 53, is widely regarded as the leader of East Timor's 25-year struggle for independence, and his return is viewed by many people here as the first real sign of their freedom from Indonesia. A cult figure whose picture is plastered outside many homes and shops, he is likely to become East Timor's first president after a period of U.N. control.
In an energetic 20-minute address--punctuated with chants of "Long live East Timor!"--Gusmao urged people to start reconstructing their lives, homes and communities, many of which were devastated when pro-Indonesian militias began rampaging last month after residents voted overwhelmingly to separate from Indonesia.
"We will start a new life," Gusmao vowed. "But we will start it by knowing each other, by listening to each other and keeping discipline."
With Dili and many other towns nearly destroyed, Gusmao told the crowd a difficult task lies ahead. "There is much to do--to recover," he said. Then, to the loudest cheers of the morning, he said that to do so, the East Timorese "don't need help from Indonesia."
While Gusmao focused on the challenges ahead, he was careful to acknowledge the human cost of the quest for independence. "Our struggle has been very difficult, our sorrow has lasted for too long," he said. "There are so many heroes. We give our respect to them. We pin them inside our heart."
A former poet and teacher, Gusmao joined the pro-independence Falintil guerrillas in 1975, when Indonesia invaded East Timor, a longtime Portuguese colony. He eventually became their commander, but in 1992, he was arrested by Indonesian troops and sentenced to life in prison.
Earlier this year, the Indonesian government reduced his sentence to house arrest and in August, he was released. However, out of concern for his safety, he did not return to East Timor until Thursday night, when he reportedly was flown in from Australia by the Australian military, which is leading peacekeeping operations here.
CAPTION: Xanana Gusmao is widely expected to be East Timor's first president.