May 19, 2000
SPENCER MICHELS: Eight months ago there was dancing in the streets of East Timor. Residents celebrated the end of bloody violence and began the transition to independence after nearly 25 years of Indonesian military occupation. But today the reality of widespread devastation from fighting has sunk in, in this territory of 700,000 people. East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, was annexed by Indonesia in 1975, against the will of many East Timorese. Last August, in a U.N.-sponsored referendum, nearly 80% of East Timorese voted to secede from Indonesia. Among the voters was independence activist and Nobel peace laureate Jose Ramos-Horta, who had sought the referendum for more than two decades.
JOSE RAMOS-HORTA, National Council, Timorese Resistance: (August 1999) For peace in Timor, and for all those who died in the last 23 years.
SPENCER MICHELS: But militia forces, believed to be allied with the Indonesian army, were opposed to independence. And within days of the vote, they took to the streets in brutal fashion, killing as many as 700 and wounding many more. Most of East Timor's buildings were destroyed, as well as the water, power, and communications facilities. The violence ended in October after Indonesia, under foreign pressure, withdrew its army, which deprived the militia of support. Indonesia agreed to allow international peacekeepers from Australia and elsewhere to police East Timor and enforce a cease-fire.
Meanwhile, a new President took over in Indonesia: President Abdur Rahman Wahid, also known as Gus Dur. His government proceeded to open war crimes investigations against top Indonesian military commanders. The Australian-led force that arrived in September was replaced in February by a 15- nation U.N. force. That group is overseeing East Timor's transition to self-rule over the next two to three years. Economic help arrived this year as well. The World Bank and other groups pledged $500 million in developmental assistance.
JAMES WOLFENSOHN, President, World Bank: (October 1999) It is you who owns the programs. It is you who will develop the initiatives. And I am here merely to tell you that we are anxious to help and that help starts today.
SPENCER MICHELS: But the economic task is daunting. Eight in ten adults are unemployed. The main crop, coffee, has been largely destroyed, and there are few qualified engineers, doctors, or teachers; most of those jobs were held by Indonesians. In addition, there's no permanent currency or central bank. So the situation is far from stable. In addition, many militia members are still armed.
CANCIO LOPES DE CARVALLO, Militia Leader (Translated): The people say to me, if we are confined to live in these conditions, when our future is uncertain and very poor conditions, we have to keep fighting. And if we have to keep fighting, that means we need weapons.
SPENCER MICHELS: Many of the militia members are believed to be in refugee camps in West Timor. The western half of the island has been part of Indonesia since the end of World War II. Before that, it was a Dutch colony. The West Timor camps also house some 100,000 East Timorese refugees waiting to return home. Human rights workers say the dire conditions in the camps are a public health nightmare.
PAMELA SEXTON, Peace Brigades International: The health situation in the camp is continuously deteriorating. There's malaria, tuberculosis, respiratory disease.
SPENCER MICHELS: The pace of recovery has been slow in East Timor. The U.N. has promised a job creation program to start next month.
RAY SUAREZ: Joining us now is Jose Ramos Horta, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for his role in opposing Indonesian occupation of East Timor. He's vice president of the East Timorese Resistance Council. He's been in Washington meeting officials and will participate in an award ceremony at the Tannenbaum Center promoting inter religious understanding honoring a Timorese Catholic leader. Welcome back to the program.
JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Thank you.
RAY SUAREZ: We've just seen a taped report of a shattered nation. Where do you begin to rebuild?
JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: The challenges, the difficulties, the obstacles are enormous. But so is the will, the creativity of the East Timorese, and the generosity of the international community. Everything is priority, everything is urgent. Life is returning to normal. There are extreme difficulties. But maybe the greatest gift of all that was given to the people of East Timor is peace and security. I think for that, they have been patient, willing to endure the material discomfort and the difficulties.
RAY SUAREZ: But we're talking about a country with 70 to 80% unemployment -- a country that may not be able to feed itself for five to ten years. If the refugees came home tomorrow, you couldn't take care of them.
JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Yes, we would not be able to take care of them. But there are thousands and thousands of our people who have gone back to the fields. Rice crop, and corn crop, in spite of the lack of infrastructures, tractors, and seeds, is very good this year. People by the thousands, children have gone back to schools, and school means just a tree, a house without roof. It shows extraordinary resiliency -- the determination of people to start it. There are no textbooks, no pencils, no papers. And yet they are studying. Yes, we need international support for the next few years to come. But the country also has immense potential to be self-sufficient. In food, oil, natural gas, in five years from now we might have a few hundred million dollars a year in oil and gas revenues. We have the only and best organic coffee in the world. The potential for tourism, for agriculture, for fisheries is great.
RAY SUAREZ: Can you be sure that the world community will stay the course? We're talking about a rebuilding project that could take longer than a decade. Right now, East Timor still in the news, people, it's still in their memories, but six, seven, eight years from now, will it still be so?
JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Well, I hope that in six, seven years from now, even five years from now, we'll be on our feet. I'm very confident, I'm very optimistic. Our people are extraordinary, hard working, determined, creative. And I must say, the secretary general of the U.N. has been a very determined, generous, and so has been the U.S. administration, the European Union, the Australians, the Japanese. The international community in general has been very supportive, very forthcoming.What we need is that the United Nations set their priorities straight. What we need right now is job creation. What we need right now for the U.N. to accelerate the establishment of civil administration because without a civil administration, with the East Timorese take the leadership role, we cannot even start by thinking about what is priority, and where to start. Who is going to define what is priority.
We must have a civil administration, so that that civil administration can implement what is the basic necessities of the country, such as water supply, electricity, basic transportation. That is what I think is needed, the ability of the U.N. after 7 months to set in motion a civil administration. We have many East Timorese are qualified, we have 7,000 university graduates, so I believe there are quite a large number of international civil servants who are there today in East Timorese, might not be needed in six months from now.
RAY SUAREZ: And as you go to work on the country itself, how do you deal with people, both inside East Timor, and in Indonesia, who committed crimes during the time where East Timor was part of Indonesia, and also during the transition period? Lots of people were killed.
JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Our message remains the same. We must forgive. We must reconcile with each other. However, reconciliation cannot mean foregoing justice. For reaction to actually take place, those who committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, must be brought to justice. The Indonesian president, Gus Dur and his attorney general are doing a great job in consolidating democracy in Indonesia. and are doing the unprecedented, that is to bring the justice those high ranking officials there to justice. Let's wait and see what will happen in the next few months to come.
The attorney general promises trials will begin in two months from now in Indonesia. If that actually takes place, it would mean the consolidation of democracy in Indonesia, and it would facilitate reconciliation and peace in East Timor because it's very difficult to envisage peace in East Timor without those leaders in Indonesia, military leaders, responsible for the planning and the destruction of East Timor and the militia leaders who work under them, to if they are not brought to justice, very difficult to conceive, to think about reconciliation in East Timor.
RAY SUAREZ: General Ruwanto, the long time leader of the Indonesian military has just resigned from the cabinet. He resigned after a long interrogation involving his role in the killing in East Timor. To you is this a good sign?
JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Oh, yes, absolutely. I cannot have enough words of praise for President Gus Dur. The Indonesian President is the most - one of the most moral men you can find in the whole Southeast Asia region today. He deserves all the support for what he's trying to do for his country, and for what he's trying to do in normalizing relations with East Timor. As long as President Gus Dur succeeds in democracy, we in East Timor can rest in peace, because we know that our borders will be secure. As long as those military responsible for violence in East Timor are not going to trial, not even the government of Gus Dur can be safe, because we, Gus Dur and East Timorese, we have the same enemies, and these are the hard liners, the intolerant in militia army.
RAY SUAREZ: It sounds like you're fairly optimistic in the near term about your efforts to make a country out of East Timor, and also have a normal relation with Indonesia, instead of bitterness via two neighbors.
JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Well, obviously we cannot choose our geography. It is there, it was God that put us together, East Timor and Indonesia. Gus Dur is a different man, he reminds me very much of Kim Dae Jung of South Korea, reminds me very much of a Martin Luther King, a Nelson Mandela. He's a wonderful individual. And the Indonesians are blessed to have him. And how could we be bitter about Indonesia when their President is such a wonderful man. Indonesian people were always with us, the Indonesian people were also victims of the same regime that invaded and occupied East Timor. That's why it makes reconciliation between us and Indonesia so much easier.
RAY SUAREZ: Have the last nine months been difficult for you? You're coming back to your homeland now a middle-aged man, you left as a young man, you spent half your lifetime out of the country. Has it's been difficult for you?
JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Well, I would say it has, I continue to have a sense of unreal, being back in East Timor -- after all, a small country, 700,000, managing to free itself from a country of 200 million, the most powerful army in Southeast Asia. When I went back and looked around me and looked at the beauty of the country, the majestic beauty of my country, look at my people, I had only words of thanks to God, because it was the work of God that made East Timor free. Of course, a word of thanks to the international community, to citizens, individuals, to the international media that made possible the liberation of East Timor. I adjusted very, very quickly, because you don't have time to think about material comfort. Every day is a challenge. Every day one is inspired by the courage of others, of the humble people who are not known like me, because they are the heroes of our struggle. They're very humble ones, the poorest of the poor. These are the true heroes of our country.
RAY SUAREZ: Jose Ramos-Horta, thanks for talking to us.
JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Thank you.