Subject: ABC: JRH says the Australian media exaggerates the violence

ABC Online

Last Update: Monday, May 21, 2007. 5:28am (AEST)

Media exaggerates E Timor violence: Ramos Horta

East Timor's new President Jose Ramos Horta says instability in his country is often exaggerated by the Australian media.

Dr Ramos Horta, who was sworn in as President yesterday after winning a run-off election on May 9, says violence in his country since its independence five years ago has been because the nation has had to begin from scratch.

But he has told ABC radio's Sunday Profile program that the media has made East Timor's problems look worse than they really are.

"There's a lot of sympathy, concern for East Timor around the world, particularly in Australia," he said.

"Some mob violence - where a couple of hundred people throw rocks at each other - they're not throwing throwing bombs at each other, we don't have roadside bombs, we don't have hijackings, we don't have extremist Islamic terrorism of any sort."

Last night, a United Nations (UN) spokeswoman said one person was killed after stone-throwing groups clashed in the East Timor capital Dili.

UN police fired teargas and warning shots to disperse the rival groups throwing rocks.

Meanwhile, Dr Ramos Horta says Australia is considering almost doubling its aid to the tiny nation.

He says he has spoken to Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer about increasing aid.

Dr Ramos Horta says he hopes education can be at the forefront of any further aid.

"I intend to push for Australia to accept many hundreds of East Timorese young people in the next few years, to study, to do vocational and professional training in Australia," he said.


East Timor's new President: Jose Ramos Horta

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Tonight, Jose Ramos Horta on the day he's sworn in as President of his tiny island state of East Timor.

Jose Ramos Horta has been known to Australians for many years now. His fight to get the international community to recognise his then Indonesian-occupied country was one he never gave up on and for which he sought Australia's help.

Now, he's East Timor's second President, after two rounds of voting in which he snatched 67 per cent of the vote. His country has, of course, seen its fair share of bloodshed, not only in its fight for independence but also in the nascency of its democracy and Australian troops have been there to help restore order.

[go to for links to various audio formats. ]

But Jose Ramos Horta now has his work cut out for him. He has to heal the nation's wounds, create some degree of economic stability and keep the confidence of the international community in Timor's ability to embrace democracy. It's a big call.

So, how will he do it? And though we know him well, do we really understand Jose Ramos Horta? First, to the East Timorese President's immediate challenges:

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: There are a number of critical priorities. There is not a single priority, there are half a dozen priorities, namely the reorganisation of our police force, which has been in a mess for years and which is one of the reason for the crisis, in the conflict in the police force, through political lines, ethnic lines, mismanagement by previous government, the previous minister of interior.

Another priority is the reform of the defence force, reconciliation between these agencies, the people between these two agencies, but also, of course, the issue of the youth, unemployment, as well as bringing in foreign investment plus government direct expenditure on infrastructures, or cash transfers to people.

So, all of these issues have to go hand in hand if we want to secure peace, stability and the prosperity in the country.

MONICA ATTARD: Now, of course, Australia has played a considerable role in Timor's move to independence and what's happened subsequently in your country. Do you, I assume that you're hoping that the Australian Government will continue to offer its support?

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Yes. I believe so and my understanding is that Australia is considering almost doubling foreign assistance to Timor Leste. Australia, as you know, has played a significant role here on the defence and security side, on economic development and I have spoken to Prime Minister Howard, Alexander Downer, intend to push for Australia to accept many hundreds of East Timorese young people in the next few years to study in, to do vocational, professional training in Australia, in TAFEs, around Australia.

MONICA ATTARD: And they've accepted that?

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was positive about this possibility. We still have to further discuss details and other arrangements but I'm thinking of a large scale program to send Timorese youth to study in technical or vocational institutions in Australia to learn practical skills, short-term, like three month courses, up to three or four years courses.

MONICA ATTARD: Now can I ask, President Ramos Horta, you won the presidential election by a landslide. You secured around 67 per cent of the vote. Why do you think you received such a high level of support?

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Well, ah, obviously there has been much disillusionment with Fretilin government, Fretilin leadership over a number of the issues, such as last year the scandal of weapon distribution to civilians, perception of arrogance by the common people.


JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Of course, then, my own personality, that I talk with everybody and, even as Foreign Minister, when I had to travel a lot overseas, I would always spend time in meeting with people, travelling around the country. I enjoy meeting the common people and they know I'm accessible, I'm not involved in partisan factions, factional fighting, so these are a number of reasons why I got this landslide support.

MONICA ATTARD: Of course, now your closest political ally, the former president, Xanana Gusmao, is running for Prime Minister in the parliamentary elections on June 30th. He's formed his own political party to challenge the Fretilin Government at the polls. What happens if he loses?

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: If he loses, of course, it doesn't mean necessarily Fretilin wins. There are other parties, like the Democratic Party, that did very well in the presidential elections. There is a coalition of the Social Democratic Party and the Social Democratic Association. The two combined did very well. So, one can expect that if President Xanana's new party does not win, combination of other parties might win, or, if Fretilin wins, it would win only a very, very slim majority. In order to have a viable government it will have to seek compromise, alliance arrangements with other parties.

So, in any case, the political landscape, the political scenario here is very different from what it was only a few months ago, what it was in 2001 when Fretilin secured a comfortable majority in the first legislative election.

MONICA ATTARD: But if they do win, even if by a slim majority and they have to seek other support in the Parliament, will you remain as President? You can work with Fretilin?

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Oh yes, of course. You know, I have a good rapport with all the parties. I have a good relationship with Fretilin. I have made every effort not to rub the wounds of those who perceive to have lost election. I was the one who actually took the time and greeted Fretilin leadership when I won. They received that very well. Fretilin is still a significant party. It cannot be marginalised. It cannot be ignored.

So I'm able to work with anyone, and of course, Fretilin itself realise the times have changed. It will be more embracing of others. It will be more tolerant and they all will need my, our role to mediate, to reconcile, because if we have a Parliament with power evenly distributed among various parties, then they will need a neutral individual who can bridge between them.

MONICA ATTARD: And of course Fretilin would need a strong figure on the international stage, would it not, a strong figure such as yourself to continue to garner international financial support?

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Yes. Certainly. Although the country is financially comfortable, it is not enough.

MONICA ATTARD: Is it financially comfortable at the moment?

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Yes. Certainly. We have significant revenues coming from Bayu-Undan. Under the Timor Sea Treaty that signed in 2002, we get 90 per cent of the upstream revenues and that gives us, more or less, roughly, $100-million a month in revenues. So now we have in our Petroleum Fund Account more than $US 1-billion and more coming.

So, but still, we still need significant international assistance.


JOSE RAMOS HORTA: And of course, with my contacts, my friendships around the world, in Australia, New Zealand, in Japan, Europe, US, that makes life easier. When you know world leaders, when you know law-makers in, like in the US Congress, it's easier because they are sympathetic, easier to obtain assistance from these countries.

MONICA ATTARD: Of course, the oil and gas revenue is something you've already referred to. They are considerable, but I suppose you, as President, would recognise that you can't rely on those forever.

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Oh of course we cannot and we don't want to be dependent on one single source of revenue, such as oil and gas. With the money from oil and gas we should do like other countries, like to buy. For instance, we have to diversify, we have to reinvest the money from oil and gas to create wealth that make our economy sustainable.

Of course, immediately, in the next few years, we have to spend considerable amount of money from our own money but also we have to start engaging in discussions, serious discussions with potential lenders, such as the Kuwait Fund, to lend us money for, and in very generous concession terms, in order invest in infrastructure. If we want to improve our agriculture sector, if we want the poor in the rural areas to have access to better roads, schools, electricity, clean water, we have to invest considerable amount of money.

MONICA ATTARD: I take it that you're interested in bolstering Timor's sustainable resources by subsidising farming to an extent?

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Absolutely. Seventy per cent of our people live off the land, mostly subsistence agriculture. Right now, the Government has been providing very little assistance to the farmers. I propose that we allocate significant assistance to the farmers to buy their products, buy their excess rice, corn, at a generous price, not at world market price because we cannot yet compete with Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, so we should subsidise out farmers for a period of years, five to 10 years. Every year we reduce this subsidy to encourage them, to force them to produce more and better quality.

But for the next five, 10 years we should subsidise it well. Rich countries, the United States, Europeans, the Japanese, they provide enormous subsidies to their agricultural sector. So in our case, we should because 70 per cent of the population lives off the land. They obtain from it very meagre results so we should encourage them to produce more but with guaranteed market. And the market is the Government. The Government buys it and good price. That would ensure, you know, that the millions of dollars are transferred into the rural areas.

MONICA ATTARD: Hmm. Now, that's on the economic front. Let's look at the other side of the slate and some of the problems that Timor has faced in the last few years, because there has been bloodshed, it has garnered international attention as well. Are you disappointed with the lack of progress as an independent state of East Timor?

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Well, to some extent I can say disappointed but, you know, I would have to be a dreamer, naive, to be there in 2002 and expect that within five years we have another Singapore, a Tasmania, a Dubai, here in East Timor.

Well, reality is not like that. We received a country in 2002 that was a half-baked, half-cooked state. The United Nations Security Council decided that we had to have only two years transition to independence. What can one do in two years? So when the UN delivered East Timor to us in 2002, it was, we had to start from zero.

No institution really existed. They built a skeleton of a state and a skeleton of an administration and we had to do almost everything starting 2002. That's why many of the problems, many of the expectations of the people were frustrated. It was, we cannot forget, this is only a five year old country.

MONICA ATTARD: Do you think that you can bring the mob violence under control? I mean, even this week there was more violence in Dili. Can you, what can you do to bring that under control?

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Well, you know, the problem is sometimes the media exaggerate the situation here and I can understand because, you know, there is a lot of sympathy, concern about East Timor around the world, particularly in Australia. Some mob violence, where a few hundred people threw rocks at each other. They are not throwing bombs at each other. We don't have roadside bombs. We don't have hijackings. We don't have extremist Muslim, Islamic terrorism of any sort.

Of course, you know, because of the sympathy, the media attention in Australia and elsewhere, you know, some street violence is immediately covered on that small screen of television. And when you look at, on that small screen of television, that fill the television screen, that people sitting somewhere in Sydney they say "wow, the whole town is in flames". But actually it was only like a small corner of the town.


JOSE RAMOS HORTA: You know, you can compare this with the violence in the street of Johannesburg, or Brazil, or San Paulo Brazil, or sometimes in Redfern in Australia - far worse - or compare it with Manila, the elections taking place in the Philippines, almost 200 people killed.

MONICA ATTARD: Now, recently, an Australian military spy plane crashed into a house in Dili. How much knowledge did you have of these apparently covert Australian military operations?

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Well, we have a security arrangement with Australia, New Zealand, to ensure security in East Timor during the election, before and after, and they are, they use ground means and they can use air means to gather information - nothing extraordinary about it. There are far more intelligence gathering on the ground than unmanned, little vehicle in the space.

So it didn't bother me a bit and it's not the first time. Sometimes they use our aircraft to do surveillance because it's far more effective to have a helicopter or an unmanned vehicle up in the air a few hundred metres, looking down with a birds-eye view of a neighbourhood, so that they, the soldiers on the ground who cannot have a proper perspective on the entire neighbourhood, they can be directed, helped by air cover.

MONICA ATTARD: They're there with your approval

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Yes. Yes of course they are here with our approval. They are not doing anything illicit or illegal. I regret that the drone crashed. I was not aware that it was flying at the time but I was aware that whenever necessary they can use aircraft or helicopters or any other air vehicle, airborne vehicle, to gather informations on the ground, to assist the forces, the police on the ground, that are chasing some hooligans.

MONICA ATTARD: President Ramos Horta, you plan to visit Indonesia to boost ties between your nations. How hard, do you think, it is going to be to repair relations with Indonesia after what's happened?

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Oh no, we have already an excellent relationship with Indonesia, both outgoing President Xanana Gusmao and myself. We are the two architects of the relationship with Indonesia as well as with the region. In the last, starting way back in '99, we set ourselves to repair relations with Indonesia. The Indonesia side responded accordingly.

So, I put priority in foreign relations to further relations with out two neighbours, Indonesia and Australia.

MONICA ATTARD: So you're convinced that Indonesia's current support of East Timor is genuine?

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Oh yes. Absolutely genuine, starting with President Gus Dur, the first president after '99, then Megawati Sukarnoputri she was also very, very good once she changed her mind. Initially she was not enthusiastic about Timor independence but then, whilst Timor became independent, she came here in 2002 on our independence, and then President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, whom I consider to be a friend. I know President Susilo way back before the country was independent. He's a, you know, very enlightened, progressive, outstanding leader.


JOSE RAMOS HORTA: He was the first to phone me when I became Prime Minister in July last year and he was the first world leader to phone me as election results came in.

MONICA ATTARD: Okay. Now, President, you're a man of the people, you've talked about that in the course of this interview, do you plan to move into that spectacular, pink-walled, presidential palace above Dili? Or are you going to remain in your...

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: No. No, no. I will not. I stay in my own house in Dili which I designed, I built. It's a comfortable environment, modest, but very comfortable. I don't intend to move. What I will do is I will use the pink palace, which is a beautiful building, and it was rebuilt by the Portuguese. It is an old building from the Portuguese time, destroyed in '99 and now it is the city of Lisbon that has been rebuilding it at the cost of several million dollars. It's a great historical site.

What I'm going to use it for is as an official guesthouse of foreign dignitaries or, on occasion, regular basis, I use it for art exhibition, book fair, I will use it to entertain children like, you know, street children come there to do their own activities, or blind people, handicapped people. So it will put to social, intellectual and cultural use.

MONICA ATTARD: Okay. Now, there has been an enormous amount of speculation in Australia about whether or not there will be a first lady by your side.

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Well, no-one likes me and, you know, I'm not very popular with women. That's why I haven't married again. So, very difficult nowadays to find a woman who can cook, who is willing to stay home, you know, so, it's not so easy.

MONICA ATTARD: Really? Is that what you would want?

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Well, (laughs) a bit embarrassing to answer your question.

MONICA ATTARD: Um, Mr President, a final question. You were considered a serious contender to replace Kofi Annan as UN General-Secretary last year. Now once your five years as President of East Timor are up, is that a job that you might pursue? Is it something that you'd like to do in the future?

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: If I do a good job as President of this country, of course I intend to focus on domestic issues but also, as Head of State of East Timor, I intend to be active on international, on international issues, and if I have done a good job I, if the country has stabilised under my leadership and with the Government here, I do not discount the possibility that by 2010-2011 I start thinking about moving on to New York for Secretary-General.

Of course, if the current Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon from South Korea, who is a friend of mine, a friend of East Timor, he does a good job and then likely he will want to stay for a second term, second round as Secretary-General of the UN.

MONICA ATTARD: But what you're saying is that you would have your sights set on that job in the long-term?

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Well, you know, if Ban Ki-moon gets a second term in 2011-2012 then, by the time he finish his second term, it will no longer be the turn of Asia, it will be the turn. Let's say of Europe, or back to Latin America. So if someone like me doesn't get the chance in 2012 then it's next to impossible to consider in the years after. But by then I think I'll be slightly a bit too old to consider a job with, as Secretary-General, even if there were such a chance.

MONICA ATTARD: So it's either the next term or not at all?

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Yes. That's most likely.

MONICA ATTARD: President Ramos Horta, congratulations. I wish you the very, very best of luck and I thank you very, very much for sparing your time to speak to us on Sunday Profile.

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Thank you and of course, if you know of some woman who fit my description, who doesn't mind, who is a good chef and not too independent minded, would you let me know?

MONICA ATTARD: I will absolutely let you know, and we'll tell that there's a pink palace on offer as well.

JOSE RAMOS HORTA: (laughing) Thank you.

MONICA ATTARD: Thank you very, very much President Ramos Horta.



And that was President Jose Ramos Horta, sworn in today as President of East Timor. And that ends Sunday Profile for this week. Thanks for listening to us. We hope you enjoyed the program.

Before I go, thanks to Sunday Profile Series Producer, Lorna Knowles, and Studio Producer, Dan Driscoll.

Last Updated: 20/05/2007 9:35:00 PM AEST

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