October 30, 2001
Gusmao blasts Ruddock
HONG KONG: East Timor’s future president Xanana Gusmao has recalled his fury when Australia refused to accept temporarily a handful of East Timorese students fleeing persecution in Indonesia.
Commenting on Canberra’s current handling of refugees boatloads, which have been diverted to far-flung Pacific territories, Gusmao said he personally had experience of Australian reluctance to take in refugees.
He recalled that when violence engulfed East Timor after it voted for independence in August 1999, he met Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock to appeal for a few East Timorese students being harassed in Indonesia to be allowed entry to Darwin “as a bridge to East Timor”.
At least four students had already been murdered in Jakarta, and with others going into hiding aid bodies such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had agreed to cover the cost of flying the asylum-seekers to the northern Australian city, Gusmao said.
“But Mr Ruddock said no,” the former guerrilla fighter, who is being touted to be East Timor’s first president, told the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong.
“I was very, very angry, because people were in a very difficult situation, but I had to accept his decision at that time,” he said.
Gusmao did not elaborate on the number of students involved, but Darwin did provide safe haven for about 3,000 East Timorese refugees in 1999, according to Northern Territory Chief Minister Denis Burke.
The East Timorese leader, however, also paid credit to Australia for helping to prop up his territory as it prepares to emerge from UN administration and achieve statehood, possibly on May 20.
He described a multi-billion-dollar deal signed in July, dividing royalties from oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea, as “a very positive agreement with Australia”.
The agreement, worth some $US4-5 billion ($A8-10 billion) to East Timor over the next two decades, represents a major boost for the finances of the impoverished new state.
East Timor will receive 90 percent of royalties generated from the commercial exploitation of oil and natural gas reserves in the Timor Sea, with Australia taking the rest.
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