East Timor President visits Belfast
East Timor President visits Belfast

President Xanana Gusmao of East Timor has met republican and loyalist groups in west Belfast in a historic visit by the leader of the recently liberated Asian island nation.

Mr Gusmao visited the Springfield Millennium Outreach Centre and Clonard Garden of Remembrance in nationalist west Belfast, where he met Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and chief negotiator Martin McGuinness.

Mr Adams said his party had long held an interest in the situation in East Timor.

``I think the line of the day belongs to one of the local people who said to him `enjoy your independence, we aim to enjoy ours','' he said.

``It was very good of him to come here.''

Mr Adams said hundreds of thousands of people had died during East Timor's battle for independence and urged support for efforts to rebuild the country.

``The big problem there now is that the country was left in complete ruins so they need moral support and they need support from the international community, real active, practical support,'' he said.

``People died in the first instance from conflict, they are now dying from hunger, from poverty.''

President Gusmao also met students at Belfast's first ever integrated college, Lagan College, where Catholic and Protestant pupils are taught, during his day-long visit to the city.

His final engagement was at a reception at Queens University organised by Amnesty International.

East Timor achieved independence in May 2002 after it was invaded by Indonesia in 1975, following the withdrawal of the Portuguese.

The 25-year Indonesian occupation led to an armed struggle by the East Timorese. In 1999, the population overwhelmingly opted for independence in a referendum.

President Gusmao was elected in April 2002 as his country's first ever president.

Mr Gusman also visited a loyalist estate in west Belfast. Frank McCoubrey, an independent loyalist councillor, said the loyalist residents of the Highfield Estate were delighted to see Mr Gusmao.

``I'm pleased that we've had a leader from another country come over and recognise Protestantism for once and recognise the hurt that has been inflicted on this community for near 30 years at the hands of republicans,'' he said.

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