April 8, 2008 / 4:40 AM / 11 years ago

East Timor president hints at retirement

CANBERRA (Reuters) - East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta hinted on Tuesday he was thinking of retirement, nearly two months after almost losing his life in an assassination attempt by rebel soldiers.

TV grab shows East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta speaking during an interview in Darwin March 12, 2008. REUTERS/Australian Pool via Reuters TV

“I will address the parliament when I return and I will not promise the country that I will serve the full-term,” Ramos-Horta told The Australian newspaper.

Ramos-Horta was elected last year until April 2012.

The presidency, under East Timor’s Portuguese-based constitution, is largely ceremonial, with power resting with Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who escaped a simultaneous assassination attempt on the same day.

Ramos-Horta, 58, is convalescing in a safe house in the northern Australian city of Darwin after being shot twice and almost dying in the February 11 assassination bid by rebel leader Alfredo Reinado, who was killed in the attack.

He said he no longer needed to remain president, given the success of National Parliament president Fernando Lasama de Araujo’s who has fill-in since the attack.

“I’m more at ease because I know that if I step down, there is one or two who can do the job,” Ramos-Horta said.

East Timor, Asia’s youngest nation has been unable to achieve stability since its hard-won independence from Indonesia in 2002, despite oil and gas resources and a 1 million population that is one of the world’s fastest growing at around 4 percent each year.

Ramos-Horta, a Nobel peace prize winner, has often said he wished for a quieter life to write his memoirs of East Timor’s long struggle for independence from Indonesian rule.

“I will know only when I get home to my own house, to the site where I was shot, whether I have recovered. I am generally a very sensitive person, but I can also be cold and strong,” Ramos-Horta told the newspaper.

Ramos-Horta said he had suffered vivid dreams after the shooting, in which he felt he had been spoken to by a God-like figure while inexplicably being choked by his countrymen.

“At one point, I asked them, a bit like Christ asking God, ‘Father, why have you forgotten me?’, why they were trying to suffocate me’,” he said.

“Then came a voice, thundering, ordering the guys, ‘Leave him alone. He has done nothing wrong.’ And from that moment, I felt complete light relief,” Ramos-Horta said.

The East Timor army tore apart along regional lines in 2006, when about 600 soldiers were sacked, triggering factional violence that killed 37 people and drove 150,000 from their homes.

More than 2,500 foreign troops and police remain in the fledgling country to help local security forces maintain stability as many of Reinado’s rebel supporters remain in hiding.

Editing by Michael Perry

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