Subject: IHT/Horta: Back to E Timor With an Agenda for Reconciliation

International Herald Tribune Wednesday, December 1, 1999

Back to East Timor With an Agenda for Reconciliation

By José Ramos-Horta International Herald Tribune

SINGAPORE - I left East Timor on Dec. 4, 1975, three days before the Indonesian invasion. A private plane took me from Dili to Darwin. I have been abroad ever since, representing the cause of East Timorese independence.

This Wednesday, I return home for the first time since the occupation - one of four survivors from the 1975 generation of East Timor's independence leaders. We, the fortunate ones who have been out of the country, are united in our deep respect and loyalty for Xanana Gusmão and the other East Timorese who continued our common struggle from inside our country.

The true heroes are those who stayed behind and endured 24 years of great hardship, facing danger and, all too often, torture, imprisonment and death.

East Timor is now under United Nations administration preparing for independence within three years. Our dream of freedom is realized, but at enormous cost. From 1975 to 1978 at least 200,000 East Timorese, perhaps one-third of the population, lost their lives, mainly from the famine and illness that followed the invasion.

Almost every family has been shattered. I lost three brothers and a sister.

The scale of killing and destruction under the Indonesian occupation ranks among the worst crimes against humanity in this century. The world did not witness much of what happened. Its eyes were opened in September by the carnage and forced displacement of the population by the military and its militia proxies, after an overwhelming majority of East Timorese defied a campaign of intimidation and violence to vote against Jakarta's offer of autonomy, for independence.

Indonesian forces are the primary culprits for East Timor's suffering in the last 24 years, but many in the West share the responsibility - for their silence, indifference and even active complicity with the illegal Indonesian occupation.

But despite the anger they feel, the East Timorese who fought so bravely for freedom must now summon their best humanity and bury the past, forgive their worst enemies and build a new nation that deserves the sacrifice of so many.


I was asked recently whether I thought independence was worth so much sacrifice. It is a difficult question to answer. I care deeply about human life. The answer should wait a few years. We aim to make East Timor truly democratic, tolerant and inclusive, corruption-free, and a model of transparency and accountability.

We want to banish abject poverty, malaria and the high rate of tuberculosis. We want to ensure that most East Timorese can read and write, and have access to clean water and basic health care.

If we can achieve these things, then the East Timorese who died in the cause of independence would say: We have not been betrayed, because those who came after us built a beautiful country.

The next couple of years of UN administration will pave the road for our independence. The future depends on the United Nations' ability to exercise its power with competence, integrity and compassion.

The UN administrator, Sergio Vieira de Mello, is one of the most talented and respected international civil servants. His appointment was applauded by all of us. I believe that a great partnership will be forged between the United Nations and the East Timorese leadership and people.

The East Timorese are represented by an umbrella group, the National Council of Timorese Resistance, an all-encompassing organization that truly reflects the will of the vast majority of the population. But we also remain totally open to accommodate those who favored integration with Indonesia.

In fact, some well-known collaborators occupy key positions in the council, including Mario Carrascalao, who served for 10 years as the Indonesian-appointed governor of East Timor.

I recently spent two days in Singapore in cordial talks with some of the most prominent pro-Jakarta leaders, among them Francisco Lopes da Cruz, Florentino Sarmento and Salvador Soares. We planned their future return to East Timor and their active participation in the building of the nation.

My message to them was that there are no losers, all East Timorese have won. All are now needed for the task of building a new nation. I have urged Mr. Vieira de Mello to incorporate these brothers of ours in the UN administration.


The greatest challenge facing the East Timorese leadership will be in the process of healing and national reconciliation. This is critical for peace, stability and economic prosperity. Building a strong civil society, the rule of law, and promotinga culture of peace, tolerance and human rights must be among our priorities.

In addition, we want good relations with Indonesia. The visit by Xanana Gusmão and me to Jakarta this week at the invitation of President Abdurrahman Wahid is a first step in building relations with the new Indonesia. We had met Mr. Wahid before. He is an extraordinary human being.

Indonesians are blessed to have him as their leader in these critical times, when their country is harvesting the seeds of 30 years of misrule by former President Suharto, backed by the military. If anyone can save Indonesia from plunging into civil war and disintegration, it is Mr. Wahid. For what is needed most is a person of great moral authority at the helm.

The issues of common concern between Jakarta and Dili requiring sustained dialogue and careful management are numerous. They include security along the border with Indonesian West Timor, the repatriation of all East Timorese from West Timor and other parts of Indonesia who wish to return, and punishment of those Indonesian military leaders who planned and executed the killings and destruction in East Timor. These are pressing issues that must be addressed immediately.

Economic and trade relations, sea and air transport, and communication links between East Timor and Indonesia are on our list. So, too, is a solution to the question of the savings of East Timorese in Indonesian banks.

Many thousands of Indonesian military are buried in East Timor. Access to their graves for their relatives is a sensitive matter for Indonesia. On our side, we will be totally open to facilitate such access.

I have urged multilateral bodies and foreign governments to lift all existing sanctions against Indonesia. The government of President Wahid deserves the full support of the international community.

East Timor is ready to build relations with the wider Asian region as well as with the new Indonesia. In the last few weeks I have met with many Asian leaders, including President Kim Dae Jung of South Korea and the foreign ministers of Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines. East Timorese representatives will soon go to Japan and China. In the first three months of 2000, Xanana Gusmão will be visiting most of the members of the Association of South East Asian Nations.

The writer, an East Timorese Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and political leader, contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.

Back to December Menu
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter V3.5.8, is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from