Subject: Wedding ties Thais to East Timorese

THE NATION

Wedding ties Thais to East Timorese

Published on Aug 29, 2004

As Thailand moves to establish strong diplomatic relations with East Timor, which gained its independence in May 2002, the high-profile wedding of a Thai woman to the son of a former persona non grata in the Kingdom is helping to tie this political knot.

Three decades after Indonesian troops invaded the island in 1975, local people are still struggling to rehabilitate their war-scarred country and are looking across the East Timor Sea for hope.

Soraya Simsiri's wedding to East Timorese groom Maubere Lorosae Da Silva Horta in Bangkok today, presided over by the prime ministers of the two countries and more than 500 guests, is therefore being hailed as a personal and political union.

Soraya romanticises that the couple's against-the-odds love affair will help seal the symbolic change in the status of the East Timor Sea, from a symbolic prison into a "sea of hope", as the newlyweds plan to sail there and help develop the island of Timor.

Soraya, 27, knew little of East Timor's bitter history before falling in love with Horta three years ago while he was studying international relations and political science at the University of Australia.

"He told me that his dad worked in foreign affairs, and I thought that his dad was a businessman because he travelled a lot", she said.

It was only through time that Soraya pieced together the jigsaw puzzle of Horta's life, beginning with his parents' exile to Mozambique after fleeing East Timor.

"I learned later from their conversations," she said, that Maubere's father was a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who had been previously unwelcome in Thailand out of concern that his visit would potentially jeopardise the amicable relations between Bangkok and Jakarta.

The young bride only recently discovered that her husband's father is Jose Ramos Horta, the new foreign minister of East Timor and one of the key players in securing international assistance to free East Timor from its oppressors.

Her mother-in-law is also not shy of entering the political fray: Ana Pessoa is the nation's minister of justice.

Horta is aware of the responsibility he has inherited. "We talked very clearly about my role in having to serve my country," said the 26-year-old.

He plans to finish his studies in Hawaii then return "home" with his wife to begin work. "My first choice is the Defence Ministry, but if my government orders me to do otherwise I will," he added.

As the representative of East Timor Youths Overseas, the young man formerly occupied his time organising forums to draw global attention to East Timor's continuing economic plight.

However, he shies away from comparisons with his father.

"Because dad is very tough and East Timor is only a small country, if I work with him people will inevitably say, 'Look, that's his son,'" he said.

He added that he would be tempted to stay in Thailand as East Timorese ambassador to the Kingdom, but wouldn't apply for the position out of concern that the Thai government would view him as being too politically inexperienced.

"First secretary may be possible though," he said.

Seemingly unable to take his eyes off his bride throughout the interview, Horta said he had teased her that Thai women were so beautiful it would be better for the couple if they were to leave.

Unfazed, Soraya said she would follow her husband anywhere in the world, despite the risks.

"The East Timor I visited last year was clearly a developing country. It didn't strike me as the violent place people have warned me about," she said.

Soraya, who graduated from Sydney University of Technology, plans to work in the tourism industry in her new home.

"I told my mum the East Timor Sea I saw last year was incredibly beautiful and its sand looked untouched. I love it," she added.

Subhatra Bhumiprabhas


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