Subject: Jose Ramos-Horta: I'll support death for terrorists

The Australian August 21, 2003

Jose Ramos-Horta: I'll support death for terrorists

WHEN I finally returned home after 24 years in exile on December 1 1999, Sergio Vieira de Mello was one of my UN travel companions.

I had known Sergio for years. And I was most pleased when he was chosen by the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to be the UN's special representative for East Timor after our independence from Indonesia.

I had a private conversation with Annan, and I told him that the Timorese people needed not only a competent professional diplomat, but also a caring, compassionate individual to lead the nation in the painful recovery and transition from the 1999 devastation into nationhood.

Sergio's initial appointment was supposed to be only for a few months. Thankfully, he stayed on for two years. More than any other Timorese political leader, I dealt with Sergio on an almost daily basis, both professionally and as a friend.

Sergio came from an upper-class Brazilian family. His late father was a senior Brazilian diplomat who was not on good terms with Brazil's military rulers throughout the 1960s and '70s. His ageing mother still lives in Rio de Janeiro, and Sergio used to talk to her very regularly. They were very close.

Sergio had an incredible energy, was physically fit, jogging many miles a few times a week. Highly educated with a doctorate in philosophy from Sorbonne, France. He spoke flawless English, French, Italian and Spanish, besides his native Portuguese.

When we both blended in East Timor in late 1999, we found a country thoroughly devastated by vicious militias with the full support of the Indonesian army, more than a third of the population displaced in Indonesian West Timor, a whole nation deeply traumatised by years of violence and humiliation.

Sergio's mandate was to govern East Timor and, for the purpose, the UN Security Council gave him full legislative and executive powers. Never before had an individual been given such powers and responsibilities to build a country from ashes. And what a task it was. This was, after all, to be the UN's very first attempt at nation building.

But Sergio was up to the task. He had served the UN for 30 years ­ aalways with energy, dedication and ambition to excel. He had also served in Bangladesh, Mozambique, Cambodia, Rwanda and Kosovo ­ always with energy and dettermination.

However, his impressive wealth of experience did not include running a country. It certainly did not include building one from scratch. So, he too, had to learn ­ and he learned quickly. During his two-year reign, I accompanied him in his numerous forays into the remote districts of East Timor. I sat with him in countless meetings, but also chatted with him about trivial things. We joked, teased each other and laughed a lot. He was a patient diplomat, a good listener, an effective communicator. Above all else, he was a consensus builder.

Although he had the almost dictatorial powers of a UN pro-consul, Sergio would spend endless hours consulting with all us East Timorese leaders. He never once exercised his legislative and executive authorities without our agreement.

Sometimes he would express his frustration in colourful terms. But more often than not, he was able to hide his emotions.

I am saddened, heartbroken, and devastated about his death. The barbarians who bombed the UN headquarters in Baghdad must be punished.

Indeed, I am so angry about this act of terrorism that I now have second thoughts about opposing the death penalty for terrorists. Why should taxpayers pay for the rent, meals, electricity bills and medical care of a convicted terrorist who kills, maims, destroys and takes away the lives of the innocent?

Many times in the past, I have signed petitions pleading to spare the life of someone on death row. And I will continue to do on a case-by-case basis.

But I will not shed tears when those responsible for the countless terrorist bombings in Bali, Jakarta, New York, Washington and Baghdad are put to death. Clearly, Sergio's death has changed the way I look at life and the issue of the death penalty.

The people of East Timor will always remember Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Jose Ramos-Horta is East Timor's Foreign Minister

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