Subject: Jose Ramos Horta staying, but looking around

The Australian

Jose Ramos Horta staying, but looking around

Paul Toohey, Dili | June 28, 2008

EAST Timor doesn't need any more confusion, but it got in doses yesterday.

Jose Ramos Horta announced he would no longer chase a job as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and would stay on as President - at the same time refusing to guarantee serving out his term.

Mr Ramos Horta had said on Thursday that he was considering the UN position and needed the night to think about it. This was despite UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon denying yesterday that he had offered Mr Ramos Horta the Geneva-based post or decided on a preferred candidate.

Mr Ramos Horta said an "idiot journalist" in New York had backed Mr Ban into a corner, and made him look like he was claiming the job was his.

He said his understanding was that his name was on the UN shortlist.

He said Mr Ban had sent out feelers to key countries looking for candidates. Mr Ramos Horta's name came up and he said: "I'm interested."

Mr Ramos Horta said many countries - including Australia, Portugal, Brazil and the US - had supported him for the job, but admitted that in the case of Australia, his own people had sent out feelers to Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, who had responded that he would back him for the position.

Mr Ramos Horta said Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao had told him he would support him whatever he decided.

Mr Gusmao admitted his colleague had not been heavily pressured to retain the presidency, but said Mr Ramos Horta's departure would force an election within 90 days. He said the East Timorese were sick of elections, and another one could cause chaos.

But Mr Ramos Horta was still not prepared to commit to staying in his country.

"This year it will be unlikely that I will leave," he said, but would commit no further.

"I could be run over by a bus, by our crazy drivers in the street, and tomorrow I'm going in one of those dangerous UN helicopters," he said.

"Personally, I prefer really to retire. I'm signing a book agreement with Random House in the next few days."

Mr Ramos Horta began a low-key campaign for the UN job some weeks back.

Asked whether the East Timorese should consider him still committed to the presidency, he said: "Of course. I have been committed for over 30 years. When people say I am indispensable, I say 'Yes, and no'."

Mr Ramos Horta has admitted to being traumatised by the events of February 11, when he was shot twice in the back by rebels outside his Dili villa, and revealed to The Australian in April that he was considering resignation.

He has attracted much sympathy, but his handling of the situation this week copped scathing reviews in Dili.

Social Democratic Party president Mario Carrascalao said the behaviour was peculiar.

"It is strange that yesterday he told us he was prepared to accept the job, but today he has decided to stay," he said.

"It is unthinkable this could happen. I do believe if he stays, he is going to be more and more erratic and delusional.

"He is not 100 per cent right. He has been disturbed by what happened (when he was shot on February 11).

"Psychologically I do believe he suffered some damage. It will not be good for him to stay, not good for the country.

"He should go. It would be better for him, better for the country. But at the same time, for us it will be good not to have another election."

Aderito Hugo da Costa, a member of the AMP ruling coalition, said: "The parliament is very confused. His commitment is not fully for this country.

"There is so much confusion behind what he has done. People need his focus, his attention on the country. He is always confusing people.

"Ban Ki-moon didn't offer him a job. It is only coming from Ramos Horta. What is behind these moves? We just don't know. It's a big question for all East Timorese.

"He won a Nobel peace prize for East Timor. We hope he is still normal."

AMP member Cicilio Camina said the President's commitment had to be questioned.

"He's supposed to be playing the role of leader of state. In fact he's not. We are very disappointed. He should have gone."

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