Subject: NZ, East Timor reciprocate thanks

NZ, East Timor reciprocate thanks

10.09.2002 New Zealand Herald By AUDREY YOUNG political reporter

Helen Clark last night thanked visiting East Timorese Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta for the way his country had helped 58 Sri Lankan boatpeople heading for New Zealand.

"I think it was a model of what should be done," the Prime Minister said after a 45-minute meeting with Dr Ramos Horta in the Beehive.

And in air of mutual appreciation, he said he would be singling out New Zealand for special mention in an upcoming speech to the United Nations Assembly on its contribution to East Timor.

"It should be a model for other countries ... how constructive, effective it has been.

"We will single out [New Zealand] precisely to draw attention to the world community that small countries can make a difference if there is strong leadership and working through the United Nations."

The boatpeople - reportedly all males in their teens, 20s and 30s - ran out of supplies in their 15m fibreglass boat off the coast of East Timor.

Their boat was brought into the harbour and the organisers and captain were arrested on August 1, just a few days after the election.

"Timor didn't turn a blind eye and let it take on food and water and sail off," said Helen Clark.

"They dealt with the situation and we are very grateful."

She added: "We don't think that boat could have made it to New Zealand but the most responsible thing that could have been done was done and that was that Timor stopped it going any further."

Dr Ramos Horta said they had been well treated in East Timor and now all but one wanted to go back home.

Dr Ramos Horta was asked about the New Zealand Government's release last Friday of formerly secret diplomatic papers which showed it knew a lot more than it let on about the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975.

He said he was not seeking an apology. He and Helen Clark had discussed it and he had been quite "disarmed" at the frankness of the statement issued by Foreign Minister Phil Goff, which acknowledged "a failure by the New Zealand Government" of the time.

"It was very frank, very honest and I was very touched by the frankness of the admission of New Zealand about the events at the time.

"New Zealand could have very well said 'New Zealand is a minor player and there was nothing we could have done in 1975'." But it was a long time ago, Dr Ramos Horta said.

"It was a dramatic year in war history: it was post-Vietnam, the debacle of US presence in Indo-China, the height of the Cold War, the Portuguese empire collapsing.

"And we, the East Timorese, particularly the leaders of that generation, were also foolish enough to have played into the game of the Indonesians at the time.

"We instigated a civil war. It is not only others to be blamed. "The East Timorese side must have the courage to acknowledge we were also foolish enough at the time."

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