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Ex-guerrilla vows to keep fight for East Timor unity

In Photo: Supporters of presidential candidate Francisco “Lu-Olo” Guterres raise their fists as they shout slogans in Dili, East Timor, on March 21. An unofficial vote count shows the former guerrilla leader has won East Timor’s presidency in the first election without UN supervision since peacekeepers left in 2012.

DILI, East Timor—A former guerrilla fighter vowed Saturday to keep peace and unity as East Timor’s new president, delivering a victory speech after the final tally showed he was on course to win the election.

Francisco “Lu-Olo” Guterres received 57 percent of the vote in Monday’s election, according to final figures announced late Friday. His main rival, Antonio da Conceicao, got 32 percent. The remaining votes were divided among six other candidates.

The results released by the National Election Office still need to be vetted by the Court of Appeals before they are official.

While East Timor’s president has a mostly ceremonial role, the prime minister heads the government.

East Timorese voted overwhelmingly in 1999 to end 24 years of brutal Indonesian occupation that killed more than 170,000 people. Indonesia’s military and pro-Indonesian militias responded to the independence referendum with scorched earth attacks that devastated the East Timorese half of the island.

Guterres received a visit from da Conceicao conceding the election soon after the final results were released last Friday.

Da Conceicao, the current minister of education and social affairs, said he had accepted the result.

“He was a guerrilla fighter during our resistance time. He deserved the people’s trust and I’ll always respect him,” da Conceica said of his rival.

Guterres welcomed the concession and gave a victory speech at his residence.

“I’ll be president for all people in East Timor, even those who didn’t vote for me,” he told a crowd of supporters. “I’ll keep fighting for peace and unity of our nation.”

Guterres led guerrilla attacks against occupying troops from the hills, rising quickly through the ranks. Eventually he became the rebels’ top commander.

It was his third attempt to win the presidency since 2007, when Jose Ramos-Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, secured an easy victory over him in a second-round vote. Guterres lost to current President Taur Matan Ruak in the 2012 election, but this time he had strong support from resistance hero and former Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who remains influential in politics.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste honored US Sen. Jack Reed for his work in the former East Timor island.

Reed received the highest honor that a foreigner can be given from the country formerly known as East Timor.

The Order of Timor was presented to the Rhode Island Democrat from the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, nearly two decades after Reed visited the island on a fact-finding trip to learn more about the residents’ struggle for freedom.

Reed has been an advocate for the Timorese people during his time in both the US House of Representatives and Senate. He says he first learned about human-rights violations occurring on the small Southeast Asian island from a group of concerned Portuguese-American citizens and from college students and professors from Brown University.

A former colony of Portugal, the island was later occupied for two decades by Indonesia.

Image credits: AP

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