Independence hero Gusmao to remain in Timor Leste govt to ensure smooth transition

DILI (AFP) - Independence hero Xanana Gusmao will remain in Timor Leste's new government as a minister after stepping down as premier, the government said Wednesday, as he seeks to ensure a smooth transition for the new administration.

The former guerrilla fighter, 68, will take up the new post of minister for planning and strategic investment in the cabinet, which has been approved by the president, according to an official statement.

The new government will be sworn in on Monday.

Gusmao submitted his resignation last week after serving as either president or prime minister since Timor Leste became independent in 2002, following a long struggle against Indonesian occupation.

The president on Tuesday named former health minister Rui Araujo as the new premier. He comes from the opposition Fretilin party, which is being brought into government in a bid to ease the half-island nation's often fraught politics.

Araujo, a New Zealand-trained former doctor, on Wednesday told AFP that he was "proud and honoured to be leading the government, a government based on national unity, representing the political consensus in this country".

The new cabinet has 38 posts, smaller than its predecessor which had over 50 posts, as authorities seek to run a slimmed-down, more efficient administration.

Gusmao was a unifying leader credited with helping hold Asia's youngest nation together during its fraught early years, but had long signalled his intention to step down to hand power to a new generation of leaders.

He led the military wing of Timor Leste's campaign against Indonesian occupation and was imprisoned in Jakarta for several years. He returned to his homeland a hero after the Timorese voted for independence in a UN-backed referendum in 1999.

He was elected the country's first president in 2002 and has been prime minister since 2007.

More than 180,000 people are estimated to have died from fighting, disease and starvation during Indonesia's 24-year occupation of Timor Leste. Recent years have been largely peaceful.