Subject: East Timor foreign minister gets warm welcome

Local/RegionEast Timor minister gets warm welcome

GREGG M. MILIOTE, Herald News Staff Reporter September 21, 2002

East Timor Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta

DARTMOUTH -- After spending 24 long years in exile, East Timor's Jose Ramos-Horta, has become his newly independent country's first foreign minister.Horta, who used those 24 years to campaign around the globe for an end to the oppression, torture and rape imposed upon his people by the Indonesian military regime was given numerous rousing ovations as he thanked the students and faculty of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth for all their support and contributions over the past two decades Friday in the university's library.

A jam-packed audience of professors, students, local representatives and politicians listened as Horta spoke of his country's successful attempt at attaining independence and democracy.

"I'm not here to complain this time, but rather to thank you for your extraordinary contributions that made freedom in East Timor possible," Ramos-Horta exclaimed. "If we didn't have your support, our struggle would have been even more lonely and many of us would have given up."

Since 1975, East Timor has been a brutally oppressed annexed territory of Indonesia. Prior to Indonesia gaining control of the small nation, the Portuguese had ruled the predominately Catholic country for about 400 years.

After a bloody armed struggle that cost East Timor 200,000 lives and which ended in the late 1990s, the tiny nation finally gained its independence.

Then, just three years later, on May 20, 2002, East Timor's first constitution was ratified. It has become the first new democracy of the 21st century, a title that Ramos-Horta is cherishing.

"So many people died for our freedom," Horta said. "Now we have brand new challenges to overcome."

Among those challenges are building upon the newly elected government to assure that the country's citizens have continued freedom, Ramos-Horta said.

"The elected government is not enough, because we still need to be able to provide basic rights that all people need," Horta said.

He said his countrymen must get a proper education, three meals a day, a roof over their heads and clean water. He also stated that East Timor has an abundant need for lawyers in their new legal system and he said they are still dealing with massive outbreaks of malaria and tuberculosis.

Although he warned that many struggles are on the horizon for East Timor, he said the people have already shown their willingness to survive and thrive as a democracy.

For example, unlike America, more than 90 percent of the East Timor population participated in the nation's first two elections over the past three years.

Already a staggering number, Ramos-Horta elaborated on just how amazing it was that so many residents came out to vote.

He said he saw a malaria-ridden elderly woman walk four hours through the remote countryside just to cast her ballot.

He said the spirit shown by this one woman was representative of the attitude of all East Timorese citizens.

East Timor now has a functional parliamentary government with about 30 percent of it made up of women, which also came as a surprise to Ramos-Horta.

He said his leaders had no idea how difficult it was to run a country. East Timor is in desperate need of agricultural, industrial and computer science technology in order for it to succeed and he thanked the United States for its help during former President Clinton's administration. He said almost 80 Peace Corps volunteers are entering his country to help alleviate these problems.

"The challenges are great, but at least we are meeting them in freedom," Ramos-Horta said. "I ask you all to continue your work to help us and if you have the time to take a few months off and come volunteer in East Timor may God bless you. Our country is yours also."

During the country's independence celebration, Ramos-Horta said 91 countries were represented, but Clinton was by far the most popular representative. He said Clinton and the United States, along with various other countries have donated hundreds of millions of dollars to help the fledgling nation create a budget and maintain it.

It was Ramos-Horta's third visit to UMass Dartmouth, but his first as the foreign minister to another independent nation. Ramos-Horta was the winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize.

Gregg M. Miliote may be reached at

©The Herald News 2002 Reader Opinions

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