Subject: Ramos Horta Press Conference on UN agreements
Date: Sat, 01 May 1999 08:42:24 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Press conference by José Ramos-Horta, April 23 1999 at UN Correspondents Association, New York, NY

Near verbatim transcript by Charlie Scheiner and John M. Miller, East Timor Action Network/U.S.

I would like to address two issues: 1) the agreement that has been made and 2) the situation on the ground in East Timor.

We certainly welcome the signing of this agreement, hoping by May 5 the two ministers upon returning to New York would finally formally sign the entire package, and immediately after, the UN will begin to deploy its personnel, observers and others, on the ground to begin implementation of the process. We certainly look forward to the date when the people of East Timor finally will be called upon without coercion, without threat, without violence to vote on their future. As you know the issue that will be put before the people of East Timor will be the so-called autonomy proposal put forward by Indonesia. In the last few months, as it has become clear to everybody, particularly the Indonesian side, that the overwhelming majority of the people of East Timor in a fair vote would reject any form of association with Indonesia, and as the Indonesian side realizes also that after all the UN Secretary-General and the rest of the international community were determined to push ahead with a democratic vote, they then set in motion a strategy aimed at derailing the peace process, provoking the resistance into counter-attack, into retaliation, so that they would have an excuse to say there is not going to be consultation because there is violence. They have been talking about the scenario of a civil war. They are doing everything possible to portray the situation in East Timor as one of civil war. As you know, a civil war is when you have two armed sides fighting each other to win the country, as they were in El Salvador and Lebanon, with more or less foreign indirect intervention. In East Timor, the Indonesians seem to want to convince the world community that Indonesian army has not been there for the past 23 years and that the tens of thousands of people killed were not their work.

General Wiranto went to Dili with an extraordinary display of cynicism to broker peace between "warring factions." Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I have dealt with crooks, with manipulators, with thugs in many parts of the world. Gen. Wiranto has exceeded these. He is the man responsible for orchestrating the violence in East Timor. There is abundant evidence of that. The South China Morning Post a few days ago had an editorial pointing the finger to Wiranto and two other generals who met in Jakarta and planned all the violence in Liquica and Dili.

For Wiranto to go to Dili and pretend to broker peace is like us expecting that Jack the Ripper would, in London, broker peace. Or it is like expecting Saddam Hussein to broker peace between his own troops and the Kurds. Or Milosevic to broker peace between the Serbians and the Kosovars. That tragically is the reality. When Xanana Gusmao called me the other day and said Bishop Belo had pleaded with him to sign the so-called peace agreement. I recommended to Xanana to sign it, even if the hope for peace to come from this agreement might be light years away. So we do it, as we don't want to be accused of not wanting peace. So we signed, and what has happened since: Militia continued to be armed, continue to terrorize the population. throughout the country. Indonesian armed forces have launched a series of armed attacks on the resistance around the country.

So as much as we welcome this agreement, it is the responsibility of the UN and the international community as a whole not to allow themselves to be dragged into a situation where the UN becomes an accomplice to one of the worst travesties of justice. The UN has had tragic involvements with Indonesia in the past. In the 60s the UN was dragged into a so-called Act of Free Choice for West Papua, sealing the fate of West Papua to this very day. Tens of thousands of West Papuans lost their lives, because of the UN's blessing for that so-called Act of Free Choice in 1969.

.I hope that the UN will be ever vigilant. We are not asking NATO countries, the U.S and others to bomb Jakarta into the Stone Age. We propose a milder form of military action by the western countries – that they stop all supplies of weapons to Indonesia, stop all training of Indonesian military personnel. That is our version of military action. So we don't need smart bombs to bomb targets in Indonesia, that most often would miss the targets. We don't need sophisticated stealth aircraft. We just need the same people who are bombing Serbia into the stone age to and who are the main ones supplying weapons to Indonesia to stop them, freeze them. We have appealed to the World Bank, IMF to remember that by continuing to release funds to Indonesia, they become accomplices to the killings in East Timor. Indonesia is spending $1 million a day to make war on East Timor. Here is a country that is nearly bankrupt, that can't feed its own people, with millions unemployed, millions of children who can't go to school. They are dependent on the World Bank, IMF and other countries. We are appealing to the World Bank, the IMF, to the U.S. and other countries, to the U.S. Congress to freeze all funds to Indonesia. If the vote takes place by August, if it is free and democratic, then whatever the decision of the people, certainly all of this aid could be restored. Right now it would be immoral to provide billions of dollars in funds to Indonesia which waging a genocidal war on a defenseless, small country. Selected answers to correspondents questions:

Q: When will agreement be implemented?
A: The problem is Alatas who does not have enough power to act on his own. It seems that Foreign Minister Alatas has less authority than a political councillor to an embassy. They have been dragging this process for several months. They could have signed today. Ali Alatas said he has no authority and has to go back and may come back with a more diluted proposal. And one issue that has not been addressed to this point, the situation of Xanana Gusmao, the resistance leader. Xanana Gusmao has to be released. Foreign Minister Ali Alatas has said repeatedly that he would be released in the context of an overall agreement to be signed by the parties. They are going to sign it on May 5. Is Xnana going to be released on May 5. That was not discussed as far a we are aware.

Q: Is there any text of an agreement?
A: They do have it we don't

Q: How could Indonesia weaken the agreement?
A: They could say, for example, that transmigrants who took over East Timorese lands, jobs, who have made East Timorese into second class citizens should vote as well. That we expect. The Secretary-General Kofi Annan in an interview with Australian television a couple of months ago said only Timorese identified as such will vote. But expect that Indonesia will come back and expect that those colonial settlers, that is what they are, will vote also on the future of East Timor. Indonesia has more than 20,000 troops in East Timor. East Timor is the smallest of the "provinces" and I use the term provinces in Indonesia's own language. They claim East Timor to be an Indonesian province. And if you look in that context East Timor is the smallest. Compare with the Moluccas, which is a much larger, they have no more than 3000 troops.

There is no agreement about withdrawal or reduction of Indonesian troops, or their confinement to barracks. From what we understand the plan envisages that Indonesia troops will provide security during the consultation, during the vote. How can a vote take place in conditions of no fear, no pressure, no terror with the Indonesian army there? The same army that is responsible for the genocide in East Timor. This is the army that is to be used by the U.N. to guarantee peace and security.

Q: How long before Independence?
A: We welcome the commitment to hold a vote under U.N. supervision. According to various discussions we hear, a vote will take place in early August, shortly before the convening of the new Indonesian consultative assembly which will have been elected in June. That assembly would then --if the people of East Timor reject the autonomy proposal in the vote in early August-- would then convene and revoke the July 1976 Indonesian law which annexed East Timor as its 27th province. Then from that moment on, if it goes like that, the UN begins a transition process in East Timor leading to independence. The time frame subject to negotiations between the Timorese resistance side, Portugal and the U.N. How long the UN would remain on the ground before independence. If the people in support of the "so-called autonomy" the matter would be left to Indonesia and whoever voted for that autonomy.

If the vote takes place in conditions of no terror, no pressure, I can assure you that over 90% of the people would vote to reject autonomy and then we would move toward of process of transition to independence.

Q: What about Xanana's appeal to the resistance a few weeks ago.
A: What he did was call on Falintil, the resistance army, to carry out its historical mission to defend the people. The statement was misinterpreted as a call to arms by the media, although no one in the US State Department, who I am regularly in touch with, misinterpreted Xanana's statement. The Indonesian Justice Minister also agreed a few days ago on camera. The minister the statement had been misinterpreted and that yes, self-defense is a human right.

Q: You met Indonesian officials last month?
A: I took part in meetings last month at Chatham House in London with Indonesian officials, general. I took part in discussion Dewi Fortuna Anwar an advisor to President Habibie. We had much more in common than any disagreement as to how the process of ending the conflict in East Timor should proceed. I was encouraged and inspired by the new kind of people who could be the real future of Indonesia. They know the costs of the problem of East Timor to Indonesia; they know the injustice that Indonesia has committed, and they want to get rid of the problem. But for those who profit most from the war in East Timor (such as the Suharto family & many generals), and the ones who lost many soldiers there; for them losing face is more serious than people losing lives. They say because we have been in East Timor so long and too many Indonesian soldiers have been killed, they are prepared to have more Indonesian soldiers, more East Timorese, killed than lose their face.

I turned to the Indonesian military and asked"Do you remember Charles de Gaulle? No man is more patriotic than de Gaulle. Yet it was he who pulled the French out of Algeria. Was he weak? Did he betray France? Did he lose face? No he was a courageous man to end the Algerian war for the sake of the good name of France. So there is this strange notion of losing face. We should honor those men and women in Indonesia who have the courage to pull out of East Timor. But the military is still is not convinced by that. We do not wish to generalize or demonize everybody, as often happens in a conflict. There are forces of reason in Indonesia, not only in the democracy movement but within the government itself. These are the people who need all the help from the US, Australia, etc. Not to support their decisions to solve the problem of East Timor is to undermine the democratic process in Indonesia.

Q: Will Indonesia abide by the vote result?
A: I have always said I am extremely skeptical about their promises. I evaluate them by the situation on the ground by what they do in East Timor and not by the promises they make in Jakarta and New York. Too many promises have been broken in the past. We should remain very vigilant – but the pressure does work. The UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is personally engaged in this process; he has repeatedly contacted the Indonesian side directly. And I believe with his extraordinary moral authority – greatest in last 30 years – we are very grateful and confident with him that the Indonesians will be a bit more careful. They have a reputation at stake. I am very pleased with reaction of the US State Department has been very positive. The Assistant Secretary of State has made repeated demarches in Jakarta. Madeleine Albright made repeated approaches to Alatas. Secretary of Defense Cohen wrote strong letter to Wiranto. President Clinton has also addressed Habibie on the issue. EU taking strong initiatives, especially after the visit by Irish Foreign Minister Andrews to East Timor. He came back totally outraged at what he saw. In view of all of these, that those in Indonesia who have the greatest interest of their country in mind will realize that East Timor will become too costly to them if they continue to backpedal. We are not going to give up; we survived worse times when Indonesian was storing internationally in the 70s and 80s and we were totally isolated. It is not now that we are going to be intimidated by Indonesia.

A: Autonomy makes no sense for us. We have been asked time and again why we don't we join Indonesia. I answer why don't we join Mongolia for instance. I would prefer to join Mongolia. At least Mongolia never invaded us.

My point is there is no historical relationship beween East Timor and Indonesian. This option of autonomy is there only because someone came in 1975 with its weapons and killed 200,000 and 23 years later and said you can chose a better situation with us. My conscience tells me (although I know the people in East Timor know better, they don't need me to tell them, I've been abroad) the vote will be overwhelming against so-called autonomy with Indonesia.

Q: What is your future role in a free East Timor?
A: I will be active intellectual life, journalist, but I will not be part of any government. That is my long-standing view. There are many others, people in the younger generation, who are capable. We can do a far better job in running an independent East Timor than Indonesians --the governing elite --are doing running their own country.

Q: Who in Indonesia don't want to solve the problem of the East Timor?
Only the very narrow-minded, hardliners, mostly the Suharto loyalists, the special troops such as Kopassus are the ones that do not want to relinquish East Timor. But as democracy takes hold in Indonesia, as the people there become more aware of the problem of East Timor, the Indonesians will suffer the same pressures as Portugal did in 1974 to get rid of their colonies, as the US government did from its people to get out of Vietnam. It will become untenable for a democratic government in Indonesia, after June, to continue the policies of occupation and killings and torture and rape in East Timor.

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