East Timor - Personal background

Mari Alkatiri was born 26 November 1949, and grew up in Dili. A practicing Muslim, he is the descendant of immigrants from Yemen. His father, who died at age 100, was a leader of Dili's small Arab community. The family had ties to Indonesia, with a cousin who was an "incorruptible" finance minister under Suharto, but Alkatiri became a pro-independence activist. He was one of the founders of Fretilin, along with Nicolau Lobato, Francisco Xavier do Amaral, and Jose Ramos-Horta, and he served in the short-lived postcolonial government, the Democratic Republic of East Timor, during December 1975. Alkatiri and Ramos-Horta left East Timor as emissaries in December 1975 and were safely overseas when Indonesia invaded East Timor. Alkatiri took refuge in Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony in Africa with a leftist government. During the occupation of East Timor, he served as a diplomatic representative for independent East Timor. He completed a law degree at Eduardo Mondiane University in Mozambique. He married Maria Ribiero, from East Timor, when they both were in exile in Mozambique. The couple has three children. After the referendum in 1999, the exiled pro-independence leaders—including Alkatiri and Jose Ramos-Horta—returned to East Timor, and Xanana Gusmao was released from an Indonesian prison and returned as well.

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