BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor      home   August news

"Picture an election where the media has no real influence, an election where, if you want to take your message to the people, you have to fly to remote mountaintops, or drive for hours on treacherous roads and risk attacks from violent gangs. An election where if youíre to have any chance of winning, youíve got to have the blessing of the church. An election where voters are scared to go to the ballot box because the last time they did, they saw their houses go up in flames and blood flow in the streets. ... this week ... we go on a campaign trail like no other, with Jose Ramos Horta in East Timor, as his country literally invents its own institutions." Gerald Tooth
See also:

BD: Peoples' Participation - A collection of recent media releases, reports and articles
BD: FRETILIN - Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor / Frente Revolucionaria do Timor Leste Independente - A collection of recent speeches, documents, statements, news and reports

Radio National
background briefing

Jose Ramos Horta: Walk a Mile in My Shoes
Produced by Gerald Tooth

Sunday 5/08/01

Hear this Background Briefing in Real Audio
http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/bbing/audio/bb_050801.ram

Download the transcript in a printer friendly format:
RTF format: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/bbing/docs/20010805_horta.rtf
Word 6.0 format: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/bbing/docs/20010805_horta.doc

For photographs taken during the making of this program go here:
http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/bbing/specials/timor2001/photo.htm

Helicopter sounds

Gerald Tooth: Picture an election where the media has no real influence, an election where, if you want to take your message to the people, you have to fly to remote mountaintops, or drive for hours on treacherous roads and risk attacks from violent gangs. An election where if youíre to have any chance of winning, youíve got to have the blessing of the church. An election where voters are scared to go to the ballot box because the last time they did, they saw their houses go up in flames and blood flow in the streets.
Iím Gerald Tooth, and this week on Radio Nationalís Background Briefing, we go on a campaign trail like no other, with Jose Ramos Horta in East Timor, as his country literally invents its own institutions.

This election, on August 30, is not for a seat in parliament, that doesnít exist yet, but an election where the winners take a place at the table where the blueprint for the newly-freed nation will be drawn up.

For Ramos Horta this moment in history is the culmination of a lifelong struggle.

Jose Ramos Horta: Iím overjoyed, happy, that Iím a central part of an epic struggle. We began twenty five years ago, it was an impossible dream that became a reality. Now Iím part, in a modest way, of putting the pieces together, pulling the country off the ashes of destruction, continuing to give hope to people, to comfort people, but I do not see myself playing any active government role.

Gerald Tooth: Currently the Foreign Affairs Cabinet Member in the UN-led transitional administration [UNTAET], he has decided not to run in the election for a seat in the 88-member Constituent Assembly.

Under the timetable set down by the United Nations, those elected to the Assembly will have a mere ninety days to write East Timorís constitution, to author the document that will shape the lives of a people who won their independence after a generation of appalling human suffering.

At fifty one, and having spent half his life roaming the world pleading for support for East Timor to have a chance to govern itself Ramos Horta has stunned many by saying he doesnít want to be part of the first government.

Instead of campaigning for the Fretilin Party, which he helped found in 1974, or the Socialist Democratic Party heís been linked to in more recent times, Ramos Horta has carved out a role as a neutral advocate for a peaceful transition to independence. In that role heís been going to East Timorís remote corners, preaching calm and trying to explain the complex, UN-decreed electoral process to a confused and fearful population.

Helicopter sound

Gerald Tooth: Itís Sunday, July 15, the first day of the official election campaign. Catching a UN helicopter from Dili, Jose Ramos Horta has flown to a mountaintop village in the central highlands of the Timor island. Skimming over the razorbacked mountains and steep ravines it becomes obvious why traditional legend has Timor formed from the back of a huge crocodile.

Drums/gongs

Jose Ramos Horta: We are in Atsabe, a sub-district of Ermera not too far from the border with West Timor. Itís a rich, coffee-growing area, the whole district, the biggest exporting wealth of East Timorese coffee, high quality Arabica. But also it suffered a lot of devastation throughout the twenty five years, and particularly Ď99.

Gerald Tooth: And whatís the building weíre standing outside?

Jose Ramos Horta: I used to live here myself, brothers and sisters and parents. As a child, my father was a sub-district officer. We were here for five years and we became very close to the region, to the chiefs here.

Applause

Gerald Tooth: Jose Ramos Horta uses this connection with the village as an effective platform to launch into his message. About 500 people have come to the public meeting called to mark his visit.

There are concerns about the forthcoming election in which sixteen different political parties are chasing the peopleís vote.

In Atsabeís central square, the villagers have gathered in a large open-walled shed. They have filled the wooden benches and chairs on the bare cement slab floor, while those that have come late stand outside. At the front the dignitaries are seated on lunge furniture covered with colourful traditional weavings.

In the dirt around the shed, chickens and pigs wander. Behind the speakers, coffee beans dry on thirty metre long cement benches, where thereís a monkey on a chain.

Jose Ramos Horta clearly commands the respect of these people. From the moment he stepped from the helicopter, people started kissing his hand and following his every step. Now theyíre hanging on his every word.

The meeting goes on for nearly three hours.

Ramos Horta fields scores of questions about the election. But the villagers do have other things on their minds, such as fluctuating world coffee prices that are hurting them. And one old man deliberately breaks the serious nature of the dialogue by saying that what he really wants from independence, is a new car and a driver to go with it.

But as Ramos Horta explains later, the people here have one overwhelming concern about the forthcoming ballot.

Jose Ramos Horta: When they see the proliferation of political parties, they really donít equate it or associate it with freedom of choice. What comes to their minds first and foremost is violence, that the political parties they fight between political parties, might bring violence to their community again.

Gerald Tooth: To calm those fears, Horta calls out the local leaders of the political parties who are at the meeting.

In front of the crowd he reminds the regional leaders that their national representatives have just signed a National Pact in Dili, committing themselves to a non-violent election process. He tells the crowd that it is the local political leaders who are responsible for honouring that pact.

He then tells the crowd not to rely on UN peacekeeping troops or foreign civilian police, known as Civpol, to stop politically motivated violence.  Peace, he says, is your responsibility, and yours alone.

But this election is different to the Independence Referendum two years ago, which was only watched over by unarmed observers. Standing by now are just under 8,000 well-armed UN military, and just over 1,400 Civpol officers, also armed and with a mandate to shoot to kill.

In Atsabe, the Civpol presence is two Australians. The officer-in-charge, Murray Smith, from Western Australia, says there have been no signs of violence since he arrived some three months ago, and heís not expecting any as a result of the election.

He also says the East Timorese system of traditional justice, which remains strong in the regions outside Dili, is playing a significant role in peacefully resolving disputes.

Murray Smith explains that traditional justice is dispensed by an elected official in each village, called a Nurep, who is the equivalent of a town mayor.

Murray Smith: We had a case soon after we first arrived here, where a lady had been acting I guess as a bit of a chemist, a bush chemist, and handing out medicines to a couple of women in the village who were sick. The medicines in fact made the ladies worse, and they made a complaint against the woman who had given out the medicine, and they held what in effect what was a witch trial. They accused this lady of being a witch. There was a trial held, the Nurep presided over that, and made the decision that she in fact was guilty and she was fined a pig for that. So it just makes our job a lot easier, because we can resolve those minor disputes at the village level and everyone walks away a lot happier with the situation.

Gerald Tooth: As the winners of this election sit down and start writing the constitution in September, this concept of traditional justice is one of the issues they will have to come to terms with. Many are pushing for it to be formally recognised and included in East Timorís new legal system.

Its advocates say the strength of traditional justice is its emphasis on reconciliation and mediated solutions, in contrast to the adversarial nature of Western-style court systems.

As the sun begins to set over Atsabe, Jose Ramos Horta and his ever-present security entourage climb into a trio of four-wheel drives and head down the treacherous potholed roads to the village of Lete-Foho, about an hour-and-a-half away.

We spend the night in a bullet-hole-riddled house beside the Civpol compound.

The next morning, itís a chilly five degrees, and as the mists part, the village is revealed, laid out along the spine of one of those razorback ridges that leads to East Timorís highest peak, Mount Ramelau.

Dominating the collection of thatched-roof huts clinging to the steep slopes is a comparatively enormous, pristine church. Itís startling bell tower is shaped in a perfect rendition of two huge praying hands.

Chanting

Gerald Tooth: And Our Lady of Carmel church is the reason we are here. Itís just been built, with funds from the sorts of players that will shape the countryís future: the Indonesian and Portuguese Governments, and from a Hong Kong based philanthropist, and Horta associate, named Eric Hotung. The church is to be consecrated today.

Ramos Hortaís fellow Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Bishop Carlos Belo, is here to perform the ceremony, and the head of the UN Mission, Sergio Vieira de Mello is also present.But it is the peopleís day in Lete-Foho. They are pouring into the village in their thousands. Dancers in traditional dress, with gong and drums have taken over the street winding up to the new building, while an enormous mass gathered beside the church is singing hymns and praying.

Singing

Gerald Tooth: In a culture where witch trials occur and animism is alive and well, the Catholic Church nevertheless plays a major role in East Timorese society.

Twenty-five years ago around twenty per cent of the population identified as Catholic. By the end of the Indonesian occupation though that figure had soared to ninety five per cent. Largely that was in response to a rejection of the Muslim religion of the invaders.

The Catholic church did play a significant role in the resistance, though.  And Horta thinks the church should now play a major role in East Timorese politics.

And weíre at the local parish of one of the more notable figures that took up that role, Father Domingo Soares, a man that Ramos Horta holds in the highest regard.

Jose Ramos Horta: Lete-Foho is the home of Father Domingo Soares, more well-known as Father Domingo Malbere, one of the greatest priest heroes of this country.

Gerald Tooth: Father Domingos Soares barely escaped with his life when militia, angered at his role supporting Fretilin in the resistance, went hunting for him. He managed to get away to Europe, returning after international troops secured the country in the wake of the post-referendum violence.

Domingos Soares is now an example of the blurring of the line between church and politics. The fact that he, and many other Catholic priests became so involved with Fretilinís resistance movement, now means that the divide between the pulpit and the political party is very hard to pinpoint. And given that Fretilin was originally based on a communist manifesto, itís even harder to explain that continuing relationship.

Jose Ramos Horta: Well, let me tell you, on the inauguration of the Fretilin Congress in Dili the other day I was struck by the contrast between today and twenty five years ago. Yes twenty five years ago there was almost open hostility between the church hierarchy and the Portuguese conservative bishop, Don Jose ??? and ourselves. Twenty-five years later, Bishop Belo was there in the opening of the Fretilin Congress, made a great speech praising Fretilin, putting the record straight and in contrast to twenty five years ago. There was a prayer at the Fretilin Congress and every delegate prayed. I couldnít help thinking what it was twenty five years ago, and how everyone in Fretilin also made their conversion to being faithful Catholic practitioners.

Church consecration: Bishop Belo knocks three times on the church with his staff.

Applause as church door opens

Gerald Tooth: Until turning up at the Fretilin Congress, Bishop Belo had been careful not to align himself with any of the political parties in East Timor, but his appearance there is being touted by Fretilin as nothing less than an unequivocal endorsement of their party. In the context of East Timorís first-ever election campaign, there could be nothing more valuable than the blessing of the Catholic Church.

Other political parties however are seething at what they see as an unwarranted, and unfair, intervention in the political process. And the support of the church for one political party over others isnít just a ballot box issue. In the North-east of the country, Catholic priests have been accused of sparking violence through praising the virtues of Fretilin from the pulpit.

Jose Ramos Horta has a pragmatic view of the relationship between the countryís most influential social institution and its most influential political party and what they have to offer one another.

Jose Ramos Horta: The church cannot antagonise Fretilin because people are very loyal to what it was, and Fretilin cannot antagonise the church. The two are destined to co-exist, to live, work in co-ordination, in constant consultation.

Gerald Tooth: Ramos Horta, who is a non-believer himself nevertheless says religious faith does have a role to play in healing the wounds of the past.

Jose Ramos Horta: I see vital, absolutely vital, their continuing role because the society the country needs, spirituality, needs faith.

Gerald Tooth: He says that the church commands enormous moral authority and as such is the one institution that can provide a way forward in the reconciliation process.

Divisions within the community in the wake of the post-referendum violence two years ago, still run deep. And despite the involvement of Catholic priests in the resistance movement, Jose Ramos Horta insists the church is now trusted by both sides, that is both the pro-independence and the pro-Indonesian supporters.

For that reason, the church is expected to play a major role in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission being set up to investigate the horrific violence of the recent past.

Jose Ramos Horta: One of its functions is precisely to listen to stories, to gather data and one aspect thatís very important is that it does not look only into recent history of violence, such as Ď99, it goes back to the violence in Ď74, Ď75, where Fretilin and the Timorese Democratic Union, UDT, played a role. The first violence that took place in this country was not by Indonesian troops, it was by Fretilin and UDT.

Gerald Tooth: Did you have a role in that violence?

Jose Ramos Horta: I was obviously not involved, in any shape or form, directly or indirectly in the violence of Ď74, Ď75. I was not in Timor during the Civil War, I was in Australia. By the time I returned the civil war was ended.

Gerald Tooth: The civil war in August 1975 between Fretilin and the Timorese Democratic Union was a power struggle for control of East Timor in the face of Portugalís withdrawal. It went for two weeks. Estimates of those killed in the conflict range from 500 to several thousand.

Even if the Truth and Reconciliation Commission does investigate that period, its main focus will undoubtedly be the post-referendum atrocities of 1999.  And as Ramos Horta says, the fundamental problem there is that the most significant perpetrators have left the country and are now living the good life in Jakarta.

Jose Ramos Horta: Then we are left with our own people who were instruments, who were forced to do what they did, who were the victims of circumstances, and are we going to put them on trial while the others have escaped, are in Indonesia, who might not ever be brought to trial? So that is the painful question we ask ourselves.

Gerald Tooth: And it may be Father Domingos Soares who has to answer that question. Itís expected that a priest will be chosen to head up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Ignoring his past allegiances, and the tensions that they might cause, many people are pushing for the Lete-Foho priest to get the job, a job that Father Domingos says heíd relish.

Domingos Soares: ĎTis my ideal to give something good for my people. I want to do the reconciliation the best for the people.

Gerald Tooth: Do you have any concerns about the forthcoming election?

ď...sixteen political parties, it is too many for the people who are in confusion.Ē

Domingos Soares: Our problem there is the people, they donít like more problems and now they are in confusion with sixteen political parties, it is too many for the people who are in confusion.

Traffic sounds

Gerald Tooth: Back in Dili the next day the confusion created by the scramble of so many players in the campaign is on show for all to see and hear.

The first public debate involving candidates from the 16 political parties is being held. Organised by the East Timorese Journalistsí Association, itís an all-day affair, with the entire event broadcast live across the country on the UN-run Radio UNTAET.

The TV cameras are there too, recording proceedings to be replayed that night on the countryís only TV station, TVTL, which is also run by the UN. Its broadcast range doesnít extend very far beyond Dili.

The debate is held in a forum behind the radio station. Itís open to the sky and, oblivious to the historic nature of whatís going on in their home, a large family of finches go about their business.

Hosting the broadcast, speaking fluently in three languages, Tetun, Portuguese and English, is Jose Ramos Horta.

Jose Ramos Horta speaking in Tetun and Portuguese.

Jose Ramos Horta: Good morning. I would like to say a very warm welcome to all of you guests, and in particular to the political parties as we begin today the election campaign for the Constituent Assembly.

Gerald Tooth: After living with conflict for so long, the East Timorese are a highly politicised people. After years of the heavy hand of military rule the local journalists obviously relish this chance to openly question their would-be leaders. Their patience too, is on display. Every question they ask has sixteen answers, but the brevity of those answers makes the party policies, or lack of them, hard to evaluate.

The politics however isnít the first thing on Jose Ramos Hortaís mind. His concern about the ability of the countryís embryonic media to provide critical scrutiny of the democratic process, is uppermost in his thoughts.

Jose Ramos Horta: TVTL, journalists most of them they have to run to get a story and thatís why most of them actually are very fit, but they often arrive late because they donít have transportation, they donít even have a bicycle. We donít talk about democracy, we all talk about dedication, freedom of press, and if so, what are we going to do as a country, as a state, the official leaders, the official government, what are we going to do in terms of public broadcasting, in terms of public broadcasting, in terms of television?

Gerald Tooth: Ramos Horta is not exaggerating. His story is confirmed by the eight journalists at Radio UNTAET and TVTL. They donít have any transport, not even a bicycle. Local journalists in a rush to get to a story have to pay taxi fares out of their own pockets. It makes getting out to the regions to do a report almost impossible.

And the newspapers are also desperately under-resourced. Thereís seven Dili-based papers and just three in the regions. One of the two dailies, The Timor Post, has on occasion been forced to reprint pages itís already published on previous days because it canít afford Internet access to download international stories.

At the Meet the Press Day Jose Ramos Horta has finished his spiel about media resources and formal proceedings begin with each party given just one minute to explain their party platform.

Party representatives speaking

Gerald Tooth: Then the questions start, being delivered both directly from local journalists in the crowd and handed up in written form. The issues thrown up are diverse and in some cases unanswerable.

The very nature of communication for a start. The parties are asked what should be the countryís national language, and if the National Language should differ from the so-called Official Language that will be used by government and its agencies. Making the choice between East Timorese Tetun, Bahasa/Indonesian, Portuguese and English is an emotional issue.

Then thereís question of whether there should be an official religion. What should be the official flag? And there are questions about family planning, HIV education, how to deal with street kids and the problem of child labour.

While all the party representatives are earnestly answering these questions, thereís concern that it will ultimately just be the view of Fretilin that will be heard, because they will utterly dominate the forthcoming election.

And thereís good reason for that. Fretilinís hold on East Timor is profound.  Its support is based on its role following the Indonesian invasion. Falantil, the guerrilla army that was led by Xanana Gusmao, was the armed wing of the Fretilin party.

Frustrated at the prospect of a Fretilin whitewash, the KOTA party representative, Clementino Amaral, stridently makes the point that Fretilin is not the only party that has been around since 1974 and, more importantly, not the only party that fought for East Timorís independence.

KOTA is in fact one of four other parties whose history goes back as far as Fretilinís.

KOTAís Clementino Amaral says his partyís main worry about Fretilin taking control is that it wants to introduce a Western-style democracy in East Timor. His concern centres on a draft constitution, already drawn up by Fretilin, that is heavily based on the Portuguese constitution. Given the tight time frame it would face a Fretilin-dominated Assembly would be expected to only engage in a minimum of consultation before approving its own document. Itís a scenario that worries Clementino Amaral.

Clementino Amaral: We, the KOTA, the KOTA party want to implement here our traditional democracy, because a long time before the Portuguese came here we had our own democracy. We sit around and we decide by an old generation, old people, people very old, to decide about that we call democracy, while our people are not well prepared to adopt another democracy. And when our people are well prepared to set up a Western democracy we can do it.

Gerald Tooth: So firstly you would like to implement that sort of consultative democracy where the older people, the elders of each village etc, make decisions.

Clementino Amaral: Yes. This is one of our democracy.

Gerald Tooth: Clementino Amaral, Vice President of the KOTA Party. His view about traditional decision-making wonít please the young people of East Timor, and proportionally thereís a lot of them.

Fifty four per cent of East Timorís population of around 800 000 is under twenty years of age. Seventeen per cent are under four. Just over two per cent of East Timorese are older than sixty five. These figures also point to the crippling poverty that grips the country and holds down the life expectancy of the people. In recognition of this, the voting age is seventeen.

Woman speaking

Gerald Tooth: The representation of women in political parties was another issue raised at the Meet the Press day. The role of women in politics wasnít something most parties had considered until very recently. That is, until the head of the UNís temporary administration, Sergio Vieira de Mello, forced the issue to the front of their minds. After East Timorís National Council rejected his calls for a womenís quota he reacted decisively.

De Mello issued a decree that gave double the air-time on TV during the campaign period to parties with thirty per cent of women as candidates. The extra air-time was also contingent on them meeting the added criteria that fifty per cent of those women were in winnable positions on their party ticket.

Sergio Vieira de Mello ways he acted with good reason.

ď...the role of women here and the emancipation of women is I think a precondition for durable peace.Ē

Sergio Vieira de Mello: I have never seen women play as negative, as destructive, as unhelpful a role as men have either as causes of the conflicts or in perpetuating conflicts or in the post conflict era in making conciliation as difficult as possible. That as a rule has been the privilege of men, and I can say that with some authority because Iím a man myself.  Therefore when I say that here in particular, in East Timor, women are the most solid basis we can find for the new institutions we are creating, for the sustainability, for the consolidation, for in the medium and longer term, a peaceful and prosperous democracy in East Timor. I truly mean what I say.  And perhaps the best proof that I may be right is that I donít recall seeing one single female militia in 1999 killing, raping, burning and destroying.  Therefore the role of women here and the emancipation of women is I think a precondition for durable peace.

Gerald Tooth: Only three of the 16 parties managed to meet both criteria, Fretilin, KOTA and the UDT, all the oldest parties.

In the meantime, the women candidates have produced a ten point plan they want included in the constitution.

The first, and over-riding point is a call for equality before the law to protect womenís rights. Also on the list are equality in the workplace and equal access to education. In regard to traditional law they asked for women to be given the same inheritance rights as men.

After a marathon eight hours the Meet the Press Day finally comes to an end.

Jose Ramos Horta: And I conclude by thanking everyone, particularly the parties for their patience, for their willingness to use this free time to inform the people in our country.

Gerald Tooth: Driving back to his office in the Foreign Affairs Department at the UN headquarters afterwards, Horta gives a frank assessment of the value of the event heís just hosted.

Jose Ramos Horta: I donít think it was enough because the parties were always talking generalities because it was very difficult to get them to focus on specifics, on numbers, but there will be time, chances, opportunities in the next few weeks to come when increasingly, gradually, there will be a challenge to answer the voters. Why would I vote for you. What are you offering? Can you guarantee peace and security? If youíre in the government what are you going to do with reconciliation, or justice? What are you going to do with relations with Indonesia, with Australia, Portugal? So all of these issues definitely will be raised by the voters in the weeks to come, because only today weíre starting this press debate, live to the whole country, but how much we reach is a question mark.

Gerald Tooth: A block away at the Dili University the one issue not discussed at the Meet the Press Day is the subject of a packed Seminar.

How East Timor manages the funds from the Timor Gap oil and gas royalties will be a big issue for the country. Senior Fretilin figure, Mari Alkatiri, the man expected to be the countryís first Prime Minister, has made plans for spending the money and for creating jobs on the oil rigs. But the recent withdrawal of Phillips Petroleum has left all those plans hanging.

With the project not expected to be running before 2004 anyway, most political candidates seem more focussed on dealing with the immediate problems confronting them.

Car starting.

Gerald Tooth: In the morning at first light the Horta convoy sets out for the large seaside town of Baukau. Itís a two-and-a-half-hour drive East from Dili along the top of sheer cliffs that drop into the ocean, then down into the coastal plain where rice paddies hug the road.

Recently there have been numerous incidents of violence in Baukau. A school has been burnt, criminal gangs have clashed on the streets and, most disturbing of all, there is a report that a former Falantil guerrilla is training a five hundred strong militia in the hills outside the town at night.

Ramos Horta is going to investigate this last claim.

First stop when we get to Baucau though is the UN compound. Here he attends a weekly information sharing meeting between officials from the Independent Electoral Commission and local party leaders.

Ramos Horta listens silently, then addresses them.

ď In Ď99 we blamed the militias and Indonesians. In 2001 we donít have anyone to blame.Ē

Jose Ramos Horta: In Ď99 we blamed the militias and Indonesians. In 2001 we donít have anyone to blame. So we have to prove to ourselves, the East Timorese, and prove to the rest of the world, our sense on maturity and responsibility. Election day people will be watching, all over the world from Sydney to New York to Los Angeles to Beijing to Moscow to London will be watching these elections. And if there is violence, the party that wins the elections will lose some credibility. So this election has to be absolutely free of intimidation, absolutely free of violence.

Applause

Gerald Tooth: Horta then surprises the meeting by telling them that he will move to Bacau for the last two weeks of the election campaign to help calm his hotspot of violence. Then itís down to the real business of the trip.

Heís summoned former Falantil Commander L-Sete to a meeting. L-Sete is the man accused of training a 500-strong militia in the hills outside Baucau in recent weeks. L-Sete is a man around whom dark rumours swirl like floodwaters lashing an island in a swollen river. Heís battle-scarred from the war of resistance against Indonesia. The tips of four of his fingers on his left hand are missing, blown off by a grenade when on a mission with then Falantil leader Xanana Gusmao.

His name, L-Sete, translates at L Seven, and is a nickname from his days hiding in the mountains. The L stands for Liberation and the Seven for the seventh element of Timorese folklore, the wind. So heís known as Liberating Wind.

More recently though thereís talk that heís linked to a sinister group called RDTL, which last month wrote letters threatening there would Ďbe a river of bloodí after the election whatever the result. Thereís also talk the RDTL were involved in an assassination attempt on Xanana Gusmao.

L-Sete arrives and Ramos Horta closes the door to Background Briefing. Twenty minutes later the pair emerge and in deferring to traditional etiquette go to get permission from the local community leader to inspect the alleged training ground.

While they wait, Horta makes it clear he thinks L-Sete is once again the subject of unsubstantiated rumours.

Jose Ramos Horta: If we could find a market overseas to sell our rumours, I tell you we would have more revenue from our rumours than the Timor Gap itself. One of our heroes of East Timor is Commandante L-Seven, a great fighter against the Indonesians, and now he is subject, a victim of rumours that heís doing clandestine training at night with hundreds of people, that they even do live ammunition fire. So here I am ready to brave the bullets.  If the people have been training Iím going there and letís go and find some of their spent cartridges. So now, we go to the battle front.

Gerald Tooth: The Horta convoy, with Civpol and other local officials in tow, travels a couple of kilometres down the road and stops next to a rice paddy where a clutch of water buffalo are wallowing in the mud.

On the other side of the road the land slopes up to a small hill, which is about 500 metres away. Itís on this hill that the militia are alleged to be training.

Jose Ramos Horta doesnít go to see if there are any spent shells lying around. He doesnít go looking for any other signs of militia activity either.  He doesnít leave the roadside and after a short discussion with L-Sete is ready to leave, and ready to exonerate the accused man.

Jose Ramos Horta: Well I havenít learnt much more than from what I heard in Dili. They say that now itís no longer training of a military force, but gangs that use home-made weapons. They train in the hills over there and they fire at night and scare the population, but if everybody knows where they train and if they train every night Iím surprised why PKF [UN Peace Keeping Forces] or Civpol have not moved in and caught them in the act. So I just have to discuss this with relevant authorities in Dili and we shall see.

Gerald Tooth: So you do think there is something here to be investigated at the very least?

Jose Ramos Horta: Well it confirms only what I said earlier to you, the work of gangs.

Gerald Tooth: So talk of 500 men training at night is an exaggeration?

Jose Ramos Horta: Absolute nonsense. Maybe half a dozen of them, there may be three, four different gangs, some of them may even rival among themselves, most of them are kids, teenagers who have nothing to do, who are poor.

Gerald Tooth: And youíre absolutely satisfied that the Falantil veteran has nothing to do with this.

Jose Ramos Horta: Absolutely not. I absolutely reject the allegations that Mr L-Seven might be involved.

Gerald Tooth: After lunch at a local restaurant, at which L-Sete is a guest, the Horta convoy takes the road West back towards Dili. But after about half an hour we veer off the main road onto a track that winds over hills and through more rice paddies. Unseasonal rains have turned the wheel ruts into snaking rivers and the going is hard and heavy.

After almost an hour of careering through tropical mud we arrive at the remote village of Kairu.

Jose Ramos Horta has come to witness the sad case of another former Falantil soldier, a thirty three year old man named Maukiak who fought in the jungles with the guerrilla outfit for twenty four years and was wounded several times before being demobilized in April, 2000. Put simply, he then went mad and was responsible for a number of violent outbursts, including the stabbing of his brother-in-law and the burning down of a building.

The villageís solution to this problem in their midst was to chain the man up. His hands have been manacled and he has been kept in his thatch hut by a large chain tied to one leg since November last year.

Jose Ramos Horta tramps through more mud to see how the man is being treated, then meets with the village leaders to discuss the situation.

Jose Ramos Horta: I decided to come here not only because of the case of the reported schizophrenic who has attacked people, I was curious to see how the society, the community deals with such cases. You have seen yourself heís handcuffed and when heís freed because there is no medication, he can be aggressive and attempt to murder people. On the other hand the country, the society, we donít have medical institutions to deal with such medical cases, psychiatric cases. So I have to discuss with the people in Dili. But also I was curious, not only because of this case, but to see whether the civic education, the voter registration Act will reach such a small village. It was not only because of the case of a schizophrenic, because when they explained to me I said ďWell this belongs to a doctor, the health service, and not to meĒ.

Gerald Tooth: But is that part of the problem, that health services donít reach remote villages such as this one?

Jose Ramos Horta: Well itís not only that these are like very specialised cases, that East Timor does not have the resources, we have very, very few facilities to look after people who are traumatized by war, people who have stressful experiences over the years for different reasons, there is no support of any kind.

Gerald Tooth: What did the leaders of the village say when you said this is a problem for a hospital, for a doctor?

Jose Ramos Horta: They agree. They would prefer to see him going to a doctor, to a hospital, being locked in a hospital rather than here. They all feel very bad, but they have to lock him up like that, handcuff him.

Gerald Tooth: On the second issue, of civic education about the election, has it spread to this village?

ď ...the Indonesians did a very good service for Fretilin, labelling everybody Fretilin, so they say now Letís all vote for Fretilin.Ē

Jose Ramos Horta: Yes, surprisingly. And they know exactly what they are going to vote. This gentleman attended the Fretilin Congress in Dili. So far only two parties have ventured here, Fretilin which everybody knows. I found it interesting, one of them said, well during Indonesian occupation we would be beaten up because they said we are Fretilin, we tortured because we are Fretilin, we were imprisoned because we were Fretilin, we are killed because we are Fretilin. Well, letís all vote for Fretilin. So the Indonesians did a very good service for Fretilin, labelling everybody Fretilin, so they say now Letís all vote for Fretilin.

Gerald Tooth: The other issue of course is the issue of concern about violence. Was that mentioned to you here?

Jose Ramos Horta: They are not afraid, the people here are very united, they donít think there is going to be any violence.

Gerald Tooth: In the morning, Jose Ramos Horta begins a rare day in the office at the Department of Foreign Affairs in the UN building in Dili. The first task is to report to the head of UN Administration, Sergio Vieira de Mello, about what he has found in Baucau.

Ramos Horta convinces de Mello that L-Sete has been wrongly accused.

Sergio de Vieira de Mello: He has brought back a report on L-Sete and other groups in Baucau which he shared with me this morning. But that doesnít mean that he is against pursuing the investigations that I launched last week. Not so much on the role of L-Seven whom I happen to know quite well and who doesnít inspire me any particular concerns, but some of the people who may be using L-Sevenís good faith and perhaps manipulating him, and those groups, those individuals, we need to continue to look into and if necessary, neutralise.

Gerald Tooth: The rest of the day consists of private meetings with a variety of people. They include a student worried about paying for his education, a man seeking compensation after a UN vehicle driven by an Australian soldier crashed through his roadside shop, and two representatives from the Deutsche Bank.

Thereís a brief visit to a Catholic religious seminar. Then Ramos Horta makes preparations to fly to Vietnam the next day to attend the ASEAN Conference with de Mello and Xanana Gusmao. From here he will go to Portugal, then to the UN in New York and then to Hollywood to be presented with a film award for the documentary ĎThe Diplomatí, which was made by Australian Tom Zubricky about Horta. And after that it will be back to Baucau.

East Timorís independence is not that far away, but it will be a testing journey. With a constitution in place by mid-December the UN wants to hand over responsibility to a local administration in January 2002. Ramos Horta says he expects that wonít happen before June that year.

Apart from forming a parliament thereís the matter of a presidential election to deal with. The man everyone is assuming will be the first president, Xanana Gusmao, is still saying he doesnít want the job.

And Ramos Horta is saying the same thing.

Jose Ramos Horta: My intention, my plan is to stay on only till independence, until the transition is over.

Gerald Tooth: And then for you?

Jose Ramos Horta: My plan is to go off to Harvard to spend a few months reading, writing a book, at the same time continue to use my international network to mobilise support for East Timor, goodwill for East Timor. The fact that I might not be in the government in 2002 doesnít mean I give up on my country.

Gerald Tooth: Sergio Vieira de Mello is not convinced that this scene in Ramos Hortaís script will actually be played out. He says he expects popular demand to force a rewrite.

Sergio Vieira de Mello: I think that many, many things will happen between now and independence, that may influence the decisions that both Jose Ramos Horta and Xanana Gusmao take after the country becomes independent. Therefore I donít think we should speculate at this stage. They might be faced with new realities, with new calls, with new appeals from the people of East Timor, with new demands from the people of East Timor that may cause them to change the plans that they may now be developing.

Gerald Tooth: Back in Ramos Hortaís office I ask him if thereís another reason he doesnít want to be part of the government and if that reason is that he doesnít want to subject himself to a popular vote that might tarnish his image.

Jose Ramos Horta: If anyone with some intelligence and commonsense, just have to see how people react when I travel around the country, how people react to me when I walk from home to the office. Wherever I go itís always an event, which actually bothers me because it means I cannot fail that trust, which is in fact a burden. It bothers me because they trust me too much. They expect too much of me and of Xanana obviously. But there is some truth that I donít want to subject myself anyway to the political campaigning that might be petty, that might be dangerous. Why should I do it? I have no ambition to be president, I have no ambition to be a member of the constitutional assembly.

Background Briefing theme music

Gerald Tooth: Background Briefingís Co-ordinating producer is Linda Mcguinness; Technical Producers, Marsail Macuish and David Bates. Researcher, Paul Bolger. The Executive Producer is Kirsten Garrett. Iím Gerald Tooth, and youíre with Radio National.


José Ramos-Horta  Added June 12

* Mr Jose Ramos-Horta is an internationally-renowned spokesperson for the East Timorese cause. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for ďsustained efforts to hinder the oppression of small peopleĒ.

* Mr Ramos-Horta has been a dynamic and determined advocate for a free and independent East Timor. From 1976 until 1989, he was the permanent representative of the Frente Revolucionaria de Timor Leste Independente (FRETILIN) at the United Nations.  He currently holds the position of Cabinet Member for Foreign Affairs, United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor.


See also:

BD: Peoples' Participation - A collection of recent media releases, reports and articles

BD: FRETILIN - Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor / Frente Revolucionaria do Timor Leste Independente - A collection of recent speeches, documents, statements, news and reports


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