Subject: RT: East Timor's Ramos-Horta has brimming portfolio

East Timor's Ramos-Horta has brimming portfolio

By Ahmad Pathoni

DILI, May 10 (Reuters) - The man poised to become East Timor's next president, Jose Ramos-Horta, is a Nobel peace laureate who already had a high profile as a diplomat when he won that award in 1996.

He has since held the posts of foreign minister and prime minister, and he is likely to need to draw on all his experience to help tackle a host of daunting problems facing his tiny country.

East Timor is rich in energy resources such as natural gas but is only beginning to exploit them. In the meantime, many of its 1 million people are unemployed and most are poor.

The country, which became fully independent in 2002 after a period of U.N. administration, has also been wracked by sporadic violence with causes ranging from regional differences to political factionalism to jobless youth with time on their hands.

Preliminary election commission results from Wednesday's presidential run-off with Francisco Guterres showed Ramos-Horta winning by a landslide.

"I'm happy with the results. I will carry out my duties according to the constitution and listen to advice from everbody so that I can take Timor Leste to a better future," said Ramos-Horta, referring to the official name of East Timor.

A regional split erupted into bloodshed last May after the sacking of 600 mutinous troops from the western region. Foreign troops had to be brought in to restore order but 30,000 people remain in camps across Dili, too afraid to go home.

Ramos-Horta has pledged to unite the country.

That may be easier said than done. Although he shares revolutionary roots with the Fretilin party that dominates parliament and cabinet posts, Ramos-Horta has taken an increasingly independent path.

He took over as prime minister from Fretilin's leader last year after the latter was blamed for failing to control riots that spun into deadly violence in which some 30 people died.

Fretilin, criticised by some Timorese and foreign diplomats as hewing to an outdated Marxist philosophy, has 55 seats in East Timor's 88-member parliament.

Ramos-Horta and outgoing president Xanana Gusmao are generally seen as allies and somewhat more friendly to international investment and the West than Fretilin stalwarts.

Indonesia annexed East Timor in 1975 after long-time colonial power Portugal had set it free.

Pictures at the time show Ramos-Horta, who was an anti-colonial journalist and activist when Portugal ruled East Timor, as a fatigue-wearing rebel with bushy black hair.

His persona now, at age 57, has an almost academic air that includes greying hair and spectacles.

He spent years abroad as a spokesman for East Timor's struggle for independence from Indonesian occupation, earning him the respect and friendship of a number of foreign leaders.

Fluent in not just the country's Tetum language, but Portuguese, Spanish, French and English, Ramos-Horta lobbied foreign leaders to highlight East Timor's plight under Jakarta's often brutal rule.

He won the Nobel Prize in 1996 along with Catholic Bishop Carlos Belo, and returned to East Timor in 1999 after two decades abroad.

While East Timor's president has some significant power and is not simply a figurehead, the country's system gives the prime minister strong influence over day-to-day government.

Parliamentary elections are due on June 30 and Gusmao is leading one party, meaning the two could be in reverse roles.

Isaura Morques, 20, who fled her home in the violence last year and now lives in a camp near Dili's biggest hotel, said she backed Ramos-Horta partly because of his international stature.

But she also had a simple wish.

"I hope there will be no more crises," she said, clutching her 9-month-old niece.


Back to May menu
April

World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu