“Your identity as an independent people will be recognized by the whole world,” UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a speech during the final minutes of the UN's two-and-a-half-year Transitional Administration. “I still recall the day, forty-five years ago, when my own country, Ghana, attained its independence. Tonight, I am as excited as I was then.”
“At this moment, we honour every citizen of East Timor who persisted in the struggle for independence,” the Secretary-General said during a festive ceremony, which was attended by tens of thousands of East Timorese, as well as high-level representatives of some 90 countries, including Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, and former US President Bill Clinton. “We also remember the many who are no longer with us – but who dreamed of this moment. It is their day, too.”
Proceedings at Taci Tolu, on the outskirts of the capital city, Dili, began at 6 p.m. with a three-hour mass presided over by Dili Bishop Filipe Ximenes Belo. The mass was followed by a wide array of elaborate cultural events.
After the Secretary-General's speech the UN flag was lowered as singer Barbara Hendricks sang a song dedicated to freedom. Six former members of Falintil then carried the East Timorese flag to the stage and presented it to members of the new East Timor Defence Force (ETDF).
The ETDF raised the flag after Parliament President Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres declared East Timor's birth as an independent nation. Mr. Lu-Olo then proceeded to swear-in Xanana Gusmão as East Timor's new president.
Mr. Gusmão – the landslide winner of the 14 April Presidential election – then gave an emotional address to his nation.
“Today we are a people standing on equal footing with all other people in the world. On the celebration of independence, we wish to take upon ourselves this commitment before you: to work solely and exclusively for our people,” President Gusmão said.
“East Timor is the poorest country in Asia and we wish to raise, gradually but steadily, the quality of life of our population,” he stressed. “Our independence will have no value if all the people in [East Timor] continue to live in poverty and continue to suffer all kinds of difficulties. We gained our independence to improve our lives.”
Earlier on Sunday, Mr. Annan stressed on his arrival in Dili that the UN would remain deeply committed to East Timor after the fledgling nation's independence.
“The United Nations will continue to support an independent East Timor, and I strongly urge the international community to do the same. Only by doing so can we ensure lasting stability and progress,” the Secretary-General told a news conference. “We are establishing a new mission which will stay here and offer technical assistance and advice and work for the government and we will work hand in glove with the new government and appeal to the international community to remain engaged and to work with us.”
“So for us this is not the end of the road, we are not saying goodbye,” he stressed. “It's a new beginning and we will be here to work with the government.”