Subject: Age/E.Timor: 'Unassuming' Howard to help ties

The Age Wednesday 15 August 2001

'Unassuming' Howard to help ties


A new Indonesian pragmatism and Prime Minister John Howard's "unassuming" nature would assist in forging regional stability, East Timorese Foreign Affairs Minister Jose Ramos Horta said yesterday.

Mr Howard has recently returned from Jakarta after being the first foreign leader to receive an invitation to meet Indonesia's new president, Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Dr Ramos Horta said he was pleased that East Timor's former occupier, Indonesia, was forging a closer relationship with Australia and believed the meeting between the two leaders had been a success.

"I believe that commonsense and pragmatism prevailed in Jakarta, because whatever the resentment that might still exist the reality is that Australia is a key player in the region," Dr Ramos Horta said.

However, he warned Australia's help should come in the form of promoting financial assistance, not in closer military ties as signalled by both countries.

"What Indonesia needs less today is more weapons, what Indonesia needs is economic recovery," Dr Ramos Horta said.

He said initial feedback from Indonesia's new leadership towards East Timor had been "very encouraging" and he was hoping to meet Mrs Megawati later this year.

He said Mrs Megawati had shown an "ability to put the past behind and shed her reputation as ultra-nationalist".

Dr Ramos Horta is in Australia to raise funds for an East Timorese national museum in Dili and was speaking as a guest of the Melbourne Press Club yesterday.

He reinforced that Portuguese and the native East Timorese language, Tetum, would be ratified as the official languages of an independent East Timor next year.

He said there had been criticism and bewilderment from some foreign officials that English would not be the official language, but said

that Portuguese history was integral to the East Timorese culture.

"There is no such thing as people of East Timor without the Portuguese colonial history," Dr Ramos Horta said.

He also called on the United Nations to keep its peacekeeping force in East Timor beyond its independence declaration. He said it was the "moral obligation of the international community" to ensure East Timor's security and stability. 

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