INTERVIEW: JOSE RAMOS HORTA
Plans for Peace, Prosperity
Jose Ramos Horta sees independent East Timor as a regional player, bolstered by oil and gas revenues and able to develop relations with Indonesia that preclude the need for excessive troops on their borders.
THE MAIN international lobbyist for East Timorese independence since the Indonesian invasion in December 1975, Jose Ramos Horta is now cabinet member for foreign affairs in the United Nations-guided interim administration of the territory, awaiting full independence in April or May next year. His relentless efforts earned him the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, which he shared with Bishop Carlos Belo--another staunch opponent of Indonesia's military rule over East Timor, which ended when the UN intervened two years ago. In Dili, Ramos Horta spoke about the regional and diplomatic challenges for an independent East Timor with the REVIEW's Bertil Lintner on August 31. Excerpts:
WILL YOU APPLY FOR MEMBERSHIP IN THE ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS AND PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM? AND DO YOU VIEW SUCH MEMBERSHIPS AS "LIFE INSURANCE" IN CASE YOUR RELATIONS WITH INDONESIA DETERIORATE?
Ideally, we'd prefer membership in both Asean and the Pacific Islands Forum. However, Asean rules do not permit such double membership. We are taking one step at a time, developing bilateral relations with as many Asean countries as possible, paving the way for a future application for full membership.
However, I do not feel that membership in Asean is a kind of life insurance for us because that supposes we still mistrust Indonesia. We don't. President Megawati Sukarnoputri has sent very positive signals to East Timor and the world. She has been accommodating and understanding and shown statesmanship. She has challenged many of her critics who felt that her government would be more lenient on the militias in East Timor, on the hardliners in the army and that she would take a hardline position on Aceh and West Papua [Irian Jaya]. She has done the opposite and we are extremely pleased with that.
IS THERE A POTENTIAL CONFLICT WITH AUSTRALIA OVER THE SHARING OF REVENUES FROM THE EXPLORATION OF FOSSIL FUEL IN THE TIMOR GAP?
The Timor Sea could have been a point of friction between Australia and East Timor because we have different perceptions over sovereign rights over the Timor Sea area. We have a different understanding of the maritime boundary.
However, the year-long negotiations that on July 5 resulted in a new Timor Gap framework arrangement showed that we were able to put aside our differences. We worked out a satisfactory solution that is very beneficial to East Timor and equally beneficial to Australia.
WHAT ARE THE DETAILS OF THAT ARRANGEMENT?
The previous  Timor Gap Agreement between Australia and Indonesia gave each side 50-50 of whatever revenues were generated. The new agreement is much more advantageous to East Timor than to Australia because we're getting 90% instead of 10%. The richest area so far is the Sunrise area where Australia is already obtaining $1.5 million dollars a day. But Australia claims that except for one portion, the Sunrise area doesn't fall within the East Timor maritime boundaries and thus the joint development area. But they agreed to give us 20% from that area. All of this would amount, by the year 2004 or 2005, to the equivalent of $200 million a year, plus the $8 million that Australia has agreed to give us each year. The pipeline will go to Darwin, not to East Timor, and jobs will be created "downstream" and taxes won't be collected until the end of the pipeline, so Australia has agreed to provide us with $8 million more to compensate for that.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO RENEGOTIATE THE MARITIME BOUNDARY?
The Australian side is very reluctant to open what they call a "Pandora's Box" because they would have to renegotiate with Indonesia as well. But some people claim that East Timor is entitled to 100% of the Greater Sunrise area because the maritime boundary drawn between Australia and Indonesia in 1972 took away a few miles from what should have been East Timorese waters. Portugal, then the power here, did not participate in those discussions. The agreement was reached only between Indonesia and Australia. Some people argue that if there is a new, a more fair, and strict demarcation of the maritime boundary, Sunrise would fall within East Timor's waters.
SO YOU WOULD LIKE TO RENEGOTIATE THE BOUNDARY?
I hesitate to say yes or no. We have to talk with Jakarta. It's not an issue that East Timor can negotiate alone with Australia, let alone unilaterally. The Indonesian side may be willing to enter into discussions and may even be sympathetic to East Timor's claims. Regardless of whether we keep the current boundary, or if we draw a new line, Indonesia does not benefit or lose. It is East Timor that would gain immensely if the boundary was to be renegotiated.
ARE YOU CONSIDERING DEFENCE AGREEMENTS WITH AUSTRALIA AND, OR, NEW ZEALAND?
Defence arrangements are always possible with friendly countries such as Australia and New Zealand, the United States and others. We'll have defence arrangements, but these will be no different from what Australia has with Singapore or with Malaysia, or what Indonesia has with the United States in terms of training, equipment, consultation and so on. But no treaty, no military bases.
If we develop strong bilateral ties with Indonesia and Asean, there's no need even to talk about defence arrangements with anyone. My dream and illusion is that I hope that one day our relations with Indonesia are such that there should not be any need for any excessive number of troops staying on either side of the border, in West Timor or East Timor. That the two sides would not completely demilitarize the border, but reduce troop presence to a minimum level along the border, and that there will be a more peaceful exchange across the border. That's how I think. But I say "vision and illusion" to emphasize how difficult this can be.
IS IT YOUR IMPRESSION THAT THERE ARE INDONESIAN ARMY OFFICERS WHO STILL RESENT THE LOSS OF EAST TIMOR?
Oh, yes there are. But what's remarkable is the attitude of the Indonesian people, not that of a few army officers. My impression is that they have come to terms with East Timorese independence much quicker than the Dutch in relation to Indonesian independence, or the French when they lost Algeria. Whenever I visit Indonesia, the common people recognize me, greet me warmly, ask to take pictures, sign autographs. I don't think the Indonesian army would show the same kind of admiration, but the Indonesian people are remarkable. I always had bad press in Indonesia under [former President] Suharto, I became known in Indonesia as a "bad guy." So when I first went to Indonesia in 1999 I was surprised at how warm the people were. They congratulated me, wanted to shake hands, in the streets, in the hotel reception, even the immigration people at the airport [were warm].
BUT DOESN'T A PROBLEM STILL REMAIN, TO SOME EXTENT, WITH THE INDONESIAN ARMY?
Not the whole army. Just with a few who benefitted from the occupation of East Timor. A few who became "heroes" because of East Timor. And then, suddenly, they lost East Timor. They must have also lost their hero status. So those army officers are very resentful.
HOW DO YOU RATE THE UN'S PERFORMANCE IN EAST TIMOR?
I would say that the UN has improved its performance significantly, and contributed immensely to progress in East Timor. If I were to rate the UN's performance here on a scale of one to 10, with 10 the maximum, I would give it a score of eight.
AND IN THE BEGINNING?
In the beginning the performance was very poor but that is understandable. The country was totally destroyed, it was difficult to get the best people to come here.
WHEN I WAS HERE A YEAR AGO THE COMPLAINT WAS ABOUT OVERPAID UN PEOPLE AND THAT EAST TIMORESE GOT ALMOST NOTHING AND COULD DO LITTLE MORE THAN SIT AND WATCH THE CIRCUS.
But in retrospect, could they have done more in that kind of situation? I think that would have been impossible because of the distance, the scale of what had to be done, and the lack of experience in governing a country that is rising from the ashes of war. It was not like the UN jumping into Namibia, where the most racist regime in the world, when it left Namibia, didn't destroy anything. The brave Indonesian army ransacked and destroyed almost everything.
WHAT WILL YOUR NEW COUNTRY BE CALLED? WILL YOU CALL IT THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF EAST TIMOR, AS WHEN YOU DECLARED INDEPENDENCE ON NOVEMBER 28, 1975?
I hope not. I hope it will be called just the Republic of East Timor.
This article first appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, September 13, 2001
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