Horta : We can learn from S’pore

MR JOSE RAMOS HORTA, who won the Nobel Peace Prize with East Timor’s Bishop Carlos Belo in 1996, is the chief international advocate for East Timorese independence.

He is the deputy president of the Council of Timorese National Resistance (CNRT).

He spoke to Sunday Review from Melbourne, Australia, where he is now a permanent resident, about his hopes and fears for an independent East Timor:

Q. Why do you prefer independence to autonomy?

A. It is the natural desire and right of my nation. East Timor was never part of Indonesia. It is not like Aceh and Irian Jaya.

It was invaded and annexed by Indonesia and that led to more than 200,000 people being killed, others tortured and raped … We don’t want that anymore.

Today, Indonesia is bankrupt. It is the most unstable country in Asia, with the exception of Afghanistan. So, why should East Timor hold on to a sinking Titanic?

Q. Why do you want a referendum?

A. It is our democratic right and a procedure that is very straightforward. It is a simple “yes” or “no” to whether people in East Timor want to be part of Indonesia.

Why doesn’t Indonesia want a referendum? The official explanation, as given by Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, is that it would lead to a civil war. But Jakarta has been at war with East Timor for the last 23 years and I am doubtful they would be worried about a war in my country.

If East Timorese are not given the chance to express their views freely through a referendum, and if the autonomy package is imposed on them, then we are going to witness another 23 years of resistance to Indonesian rule. It is going to be more costly for Indonesia.

Q. Can the various political groups in East Timor reconcile their differences and work together? Do you expect a civil war to break out if Indonesia leaves?

A. We do not have 200 political parties like in Indonesia. We do not have 300 ethnic groups or 500 languages. East Timor has only two political parties – Fretilin and UDT – and both have been together for many years now under the umbrella of the CNRT.

Yes, there was a civil war with only two parties in 1975, but the problems then were engineered by Indonesian intelligence. The reality today is different. There is a strong political leadership and a strong Catholic leadership. There will be no reprisals against pro-integration forces. To achieve peace and stability, we must have the courage to forgive. There will be no civil war because our political parties will unite. In our policies for the future, there will be no national army in East Timor. We will forbid guns as much as we will forbid the use of drugs …

If Indonesia is serious about averting a civil war, then it should work closely with other countries to demilitarise East Timor and strip all these groups armed with weapons. If there are no guns, there will be no war.

Q. Who do you think is arming the civilian militias?

A. I believe that (Indonesian President) Habibie and (Armed Forces chief) Wiranto are sincere in wanting to solve the East Timor problem.

But there are certain elements in the Indonesian military intelligence agency (BIA) and the Special Forces who are pursuing a different path.

They want to cause so much violence to show the whole world that it cannot survive on its own. BIA has orchestrated the exodus of thousands of civil servants and transmigrants from the island to destabilise it.

Q. How do you hope to make East Timor a viable nation-state? What models should it look at to learn from?

A. We want to learn from a country like Singapore. Look at how Singapore started off.

It was in a very similar situation to what East Timor faces today. It was poverty-stricken, kicked out of Malaysia, had no resources and faced hostile neighbours. It had only one thing – a resilient and creative leadership. Singapore today is a mini-economic superpower. It is proof that what makes a country wealthy and prosperous is not oil and gold, but its people and leaders.

When we get our independence, we will ask Singapore to help us to develop and manage our airport and harbours.

When I mentioned this idea to Bishop Belo, he said: “I am so glad that we are thinking about the same thing.” I will travel to Singapore soon to explore these ideas with authorities there.

Q. Can East Timor survive on its own?

A. It will take time. We can develop in five to 10 years a vibrant economy. We must also invest millions to educate the population.

We will benefit from international support. During the first five years of transition, East Timor could get US$200 million (S$346 million) a year to develop the economy. In five years, we are talking about a figure of US$1 billion. This is much more than Indonesia put in East Timor in 23 years, and with a difference.

We will know where the money will be put to use. There will be transparency and accountability … We want a UN presence for three to five years. We want them to train a police force, build the infrastructure and create democratic institutions.

Q. Do you expect it to be a subsidiary economy of Australia? What links will it establish with Australia and other countries?

A. We do not have any desire to be a subsidiary economy of Australia. But obviously, Australia will be our most important market in terms of exporting agricultural goods and tourism development.

The countries we will be closest to will be Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific islands. We will seek to join the South Pacific Forum and Asean after independence. Within Asean, a strong preference will go to Singapore, for reasons I have mentioned.

With respect to our former colonial masters, Portugal will always have a strong presence in East Timor. It has indicated it is willing to foot the bill for the transition. It feels it has a moral obligation. We should not blame the Portugal of today for what the Portugal of 23 years ago did.

Likewise, we cannot fault the post-Suharto government in Indonesia for what happened a long time ago.

The best thing Indonesia can do now is to leave and not interfere in our internal affairs anymore. If Jakarta does that, it will be a blessing. We don’t want their money that will be better used in other parts of Indonesia that need it more than East Timor.

Q. Whom do you expect to lead East Timor?

A. Xanana Gusmao. He will lead us into the next century. He is like Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, with vision, courage, extraordinary discipline, determination and will-power made of steel.

He will bail us out of our problems.

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