East Timor is continuing on the road to independence from Indonesia. But it isn’t all good news. UN chief Kofi Annan has warned this week that violence could once again erupt when the East Timorese vote for a new governing assembly in August.
Nobel peace prize laureate José Ramos-Horta is tipped as a likely leader of that assembly. Radio Netherlands current affairs editor Jane Murphy asked him if East Timor was on track to declare independence as expected next year.
Ramos-Horta: “We have made enormous progress in the past 10 months since the arrival of the United Nations in East Timor. A year ago, Timor had changed like day and night. Economic growth has been 15 per cent this year, and another 15 per cent is predicted for this year. There’s relative calm in East Timor; the situation is relatively safe despite mounting tension in the run-up to elections. So, I believe that the political calendar can be fulfilled. I also believe, though, that if we have to postpone the elections for a month or two and postpone independence for another few months or a year, we should do so. We waited 500 years for independence, we may as well wait another six months or even a year beyond the previously established timetable.”
Newsline: “Do you, like the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, expect violence to flare up ahead of the elections in August?”
Ramos-Horta: “I haven’t heard this statement from Secretary General Annan, so I can’t comment on it. What I can say is that East Timor has so far remained very peaceful and stable. The political parties have shown maturity in their relationships with each other. Tensions are rising and that is normal in any political process anywhe re in the world and particularly after a conflict but so far, the leadership has shown to be mature and responsible enough to manage the political tensions and prevent violence. Those who are pessimistic about the future of East Timor might be once again proved wrong, if we all continue to behave in a tolerant and responsible manner. Before East Timor became independent, everybody said the East Timorese would begin to fight each other. Well, so far East Timor has been far more peaceful than Kosovo, more successful than any UN mission across the world. There has not been any political killing for over a year now. So, I hope that we’ll be able to prove to everybody once more that the Timorese can make a viable, peaceful, democratic, prosperous country”
Newsline: “How long would you expect UN personnel to remain in East Timor?”
Ramos-Horta: “As long as necessary, at least the peacekeeping forces should stay beyond independence for two or three years to guarantee peace and security in the territory. After independence, we will still need quite a few international advisers for various sectors, particularly banking, finance and justice. But they will be there at our request under the responsibility of the elected Timorese government.
This interview with East Timorese foreign affairs spokesman José Ramos-Horta was broadcast this week by Radio Netherlands current affairs programme Newsline.