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Crisis talks aim to end political stand-off i -

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Broadcast: 30/05/2006

Crisis talks aim to end political stand-off in East Timor

Reporter: Scott Bevan

KERRY O'BRIEN, COMPERE: Welcome to the program. Despite the best efforts of foreign troops,
sporadic gunfire and gang violence continued to flare on the streets of East Timor's capital Dili
today. Over the past 24 hours, Australian soldiers have confiscated more than 400 weapons, but
youths armed with machetes looted and burned buildings near the city centre. Adding to the chaos,
tens of thousands of people have fled their homes and many have been queuing up desperately at food
warehouses. Just 100 metres away from the worst of the violence, President Xanana Gusmao has spent
most of the day in crisis talks with Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri and community leaders in a bid to
end the political stand-off which sparked the crisis. In a moment we'll cross to Dili for the
latest. But first, this report from Scott Bevan who gained an exclusive interview with East Timor's
Australian-born First Lady, Kirsty Sword-Gusmao.

SCOTT BEVAN, REPORTER: The journey to the presidential home of Xanana Gusmao and his
Australian-born wife, Kirsty Sword-Gusmao, takes only about half an hour in the car. However, after
driving out of Dili past military roadblocks - We have an interview with the First Lady at 8:30.

SOLDIER: Not a problem. Have a safe ride.

SCOTT BEVAN: High into the hills, the strife ripping into the capital city far below seems distant.
But not to the President, who this morning was setting off from his compound for more top-level
meetings, seeking an end to this crisis.Nor does it seem distant to Kirsty Sword-Gusmao.

KIRSTY SWORD-GUSMAO: I feel very much as though my heart is down there, even though physically I've
been obliged to remain here.

SCOTT BEVAN: First Lady, how did it get to this?

KIRSTY SWORD-GUSMAO: It didn't need to get to this. There are actually, I believe, no deep-seated
divisions amongst the community, but these political problems and the failure of the Government to
address them in a timely manner has, you know, led to this crisis.

SCOTT BEVAN: Today on the streets of Dili, gangs confronted each other before the Australian
military arrived to disarm them.

KIRSTY SWORD-GUSMAO: To be meeting again with some of the soldiers who were here as part of
INTERFET in 1999 is a bit of a sad reunion, really. While we are glad to have them here and
grateful to the Australian Defence Force for sending them to our aid to help restore peace, it
couldn't be sadder for all of the Timorese people and the leadership that things have got to this
that we've actually required this assistance yet again.

SCOTT BEVAN: Kirsty Sword-Gusmao doubts these violent episodes of the community turning on each
other are politically motivated.

KIRSTY SWORD-GUSMAO: I think it's a consequence of the political crisis, but I think basically
there is a degree of opportunism. People are hungry, hence the looting of shops. I think there are
groups within the community that have possibly been armed.

SCOTT BEVAN: By whom, First Lady?

KIRSTY SWORD-GUSMAO: It is difficult to say. I think that will all come out in the wash.

SCOTT BEVAN: Hunger has driven people to queue for hours for rice. And yesterday crowds looted a
warehouse until Australian troops arrived to reimpose order. Well, it seems the government is
losing support not only through the people's hearts and minds, but also their stomachs. At this
rice depot, many may have got what they came for, but many more are walking away empty-handed and
they are angry. VOX POP: The Government close eyes, they close eyes.

SCOTT BEVAN: Do you believe a humanitarian crisis is looming or is it already here?

KIRSTY SWORD-GUSMAO: It's here already, I would say, you know with reports yesterday there are
1,000 people camped out at the airport and being forced to eat grass. A total of 50,000 internally
displaced people currently being housed in 35 locations across the city. I mean, this is a
humanitarian crisis of quite huge proportions.

SCOTT BEVAN: Outside the council of state meeting yesterday President Xanana Gusmao assured the
crowd things would get better. Yesterday the President told the people, "That we promise to make
national unity." How do you do that?

KIRSTY SWORD-GUSMAO: Obviously a question for the politicians, but I think national unity is about
making sure that the principles of democracy are respected and that everybody's voices are heard,
not just from the ruling party, but from all parties and that even has a say in determining the
solutions to the current crisis.

SCOTT BEVAN: As for the future of Xanana Gusmao - before this crisis he said he wouldn't be
standing again at next year's presidential elections and he apparently wants to become a pumpkin
farmer but all of that might change now.

KIRSTY SWORD-GUSMAO: Obviously there will be greater pressures on him now, given the present
problems to reconsider that. I've seen how his life and his role has evolved over the last 10 years
or so and I've seen how it's affected him emotionally, morally, psychologically and I think he's in
desperate need of a rest. As he's always done, he's always put the interests of the people first
and I think that will be difficult for him to change course and to start putting his own personal
interests first at the present time.

SCOTT BEVAN: So he may remain president after next year?

KIRSTY SWORD-GUSMAO: I'm not sure. We'll have to see how things shake down after this present
crisis. What the political outcomes of it all are, too.

SCOTT BEVAN: Is it possible he'll want to step down before then?

KIRSTY SWORD-GUSMAO: It will depend on what the people demand of him?

SCOTT BEVAN: The President and the First Lady have three small children. From their home they could
hear the gunshots and explosions last week.Have you considered at any stage evacuating yourself and
the children to Australia?

KIRSTY SWORD-GUSMAO: No, no, not at all. I think it's obviously a time that Timor needs us and
particularly Xanana needs us around and it hasn't even crossed our mind. Obviously we're in a very
privileged position here with security provided for us. I have been far more concerned over the
past few days for the well being and safety of ordinary citizens.

SCOTT BEVAN: Kirsty Sword-Gusmao says the tumultuous past few weeks have deeply affected the

KIRSTY SWORD-GUSMAO: It's been extremely distressing for him to witness the actions of the armed
forces, in particular, in response to these problems, particularly given that some of those are
former members of the Falantil who were previously under his command and who fought alongside him
during the war against Indonesian occupation.

SCOTT BEVAN: Do you believe East Timor is sliding into civil war?

KIRSTY SWORD-GUSMAO: I don't believe so. I think the worst of it is over. I believe it can be
resolved at a political level and probably the reason that I have confidence is that is the fact
that people have confidence in Xanana and clearly he's at the helm in terms of resolving this
crisis now. I think what people want is a reassurance that the Government is committed to the
people and to putting the people's interests first. People I think have had enough. They want an
assurance that things are going to get better. They've been patient for a long, long time.

(c) 2006 ABC