Subject: Interview: E.Timor's Ramos-Horta to mend Jakarta ties

Also: RDP: Ramos Horta sworn in as foreign minister

INTERVIEW-E.Timor's Ramos-Horta to mend Jakarta ties

By Joanne Collins

JAKARTA, Oct 20 (Reuters) - East Timor independence leader Jose Ramos-Horta, sworn in as the territory's first foreign minister on Thursday, said his top priority in office would be to mend frayed relations with former ruler Indonesia.

"I will do my utmost to normalise relations with Indonesia and to resolve some of the most serious issues that are and that can be an impediment to relations...," the Nobel Peace Laureate said by telephone on Friday from the East Timor capital Dili.

Ramos-Horta, the international face of East Timor's independence struggle during a 24-year self-imposed exile, was sworn in as foreign minister by the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET).

The United Nations has been running East Timor since the former Portuguese colony voted for independence last year in a ballot that sparked a bloody rampage by pro-Jakarta militias, who killed hundreds and left many towns in ruins.

It has set up a transitional cabinet in recent months, which includes East Timorese and U.N. officials, in the lead-up to general elections and formal independence in late 2001.

Ramos-Horta fled East Timor just days before Indonesia's invasion in December 1975 and returned to the territory last year not long after the freedom vote. But normalising ties with East Timor's giant neighbour will be no easy task.

Many in Indonesia's political and military elite remain bitter over the loss of East Timor and the humiliation of having to allow foreign troops to restore peace in the territory.

An estimated 120,000 East Timorese also remain in refugee camps in Indonesian West Timor, many held hostage by the militia gangs, who with backing from elements of the Indonesian military still make regular incursions across the border.

"We are not allowing these serious problems to be an obstacle to dialogue with Jakarta," Ramos-Horta said.

Indonesia's ties with the international community have also been damaged since last month's murder of three foreign aid workers from the U.N. Human Rights Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in West Timor by the militia gangs.

The United Nations in East Timor has rejected claims by Indonesia that it was safe for foreign aid workers to return to West Timor because militias were still armed.

UNHCR SHOULD REVIEW WEST TIMOR POLICY

But Ramos-Horta said the UNHCR should review its stance.

"If Indonesia is giving assurances that the security situation has been restored and they take responsibility for that, then I believe UNHCR should review its current position and begin as soon as possible the registration and identification of refugees."

That process cannot proceed without U.N. involvement.

Ramos-Horta -- who will be foreign minister until East Timor becomes formally independent -- said he would also strengthen ties with Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

"We feel these countries are strategic partners with East Timor, we share common values, common interests and we are dependent on them for our economic well-being and for security," Ramos-Horta said.

He added that East Timor also looked forward to applying for membership of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) once the territory achieved formal independence.

"(We cannot) lose sight of ASEAN, whose membership is an absolute priority ... I hope on the day of full independence to hand over our letter of application," he said.

Ramos-Horta remains vice-president of the National Council for Timorese Resistance (CNRT), the main pro-independence group, which is headed by Timorese hero Xanana Gusmao.

------- BBC Summary of World Broadcasts October 20, 2000

Ramos Horta sworn in as foreign minister

Source: RDP Antena 1 radio, Lisbon, in Portuguese 0800 gmt 19 Oct 00

Excerpts from report by Portuguese radio on 19th October [Presenter] Jose Ramos Horta [vice-president of the National Council of the Timorese Resistance and Nobel Peace laureate in 1996] has been sworn in as foreign affairs minister in the East Timor Transition Government. Jose Veladas reports from Dili:

[Veladas] The ceremony took place in the main room of the UNTAET [UN Transitional Administration in East Timor] headquarters in Dili. Jose Ramos Horta is the latest Timorese to assume a ministerial position, during this stage of Timorization, that of foreign affairs minister. A heavyweight of international repute, Jose Ramos Horta was sworn in by Sergio Vieira de Mello [head of UNTAET, UN Transitional Administration in East Timor] who stressed the work of the Nobel Peace laureate in benefit of the Timorese people and also in assisting the UN's work in the territory. Jose Ramos Horta is here with me: Ramos Horta, you have said that you will expand relations with the EU, America, Australia and New Zealand and also Indonesia. What is the main responsibility of your new portfolio?

[Horta] I believe it to be the continuation of what has been the main concern and main guideline for action of the Timorese resistance, which is: to expand the range of friendships and existent relationships; to consolidate the existent privileged relationships, and to continue the dialogue process and regularization of relations with Indonesia; to gain membership of ASEAN as a consensual and strategic decision by East Timor; to favour strategic relations with Australia, New Zealand and the United States; also with the EU, which is the largest economic block in the world and thus essential to this issue; Japan, South Korea and China are also important to take into account. On the other hand, to privilege and strengthen the long-standing relations with the CPLP [Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries] countries. In particular to recognize the potential role the CPLP might play in the East Timorese affair and in the reconstruction of a new nation. The whole of the Timorese society and the resistance are conscious and still remember the country that has contributed the most, during the last few years, to maintain the Timorese issue alive. The country which defended our fight with dignity and courage. This country is Portugal. During the last months of reconstruction and development, Portugal has been generous, not only for historical and friendship reasons, but also for pragmatic reasons. We will continue to privilege relations with Portugal, because via Portugal we will have an easier dialogue with the EU. For this reason, as I mentioned in my written declaration, Portugal is at the heart of all the Timorese people, because the Timorese have a very good memory and know very well who, throughout the years, has been alongside us, who is with us now with no ulterior motives, not only for loyalty reasons but also for pragmatic reasons.

[Q] ... Throughout last year you defended the wish to leave active political life, in order to concentrate on teaching. What has changed to have made you reconsider your decision and accept this invitation?

[A] The vehement appeal of Sergio Vieira de Mello and of some of the people who work with him, of some diplomatic corps members in Dili, of some friends from abroad whom I have consulted, of Xanana Gusmao, president of the CNRT [the National Council of the Timorese Resistance], and of Mario Carrascalao [former governor and advisor to Indonesian president on Timor affairs]. I have also consulted Mari Alkatiri, who is already a cabinet member and he welcomed my participation unconditionally. As a matter of fact, all the other Timorese cabinet members, Joao Carrascalao, Ana Pessoa and Padre Filomeno, all have supported me and so I did not have the courage to refuse.

[Q] Will this be the beginning a natural double act? Ramos Horta in foreign affairs and Xanana Gusmao in the presidency?

[A] Well, I would not call it a natural double act. Xanana Gusmao is indeed the legendary figure, the historical and consensual figure. If there were elections today Xanana would get 99 per cent of the vote. I have accepted this portfolio because it is a transitional one. No one can say that they will see me campaigning next year.


October Menu
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter V3.5.8, is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from http://www.v3inc.com/