Charlie Rose: Ramos-Horta Asks for UN Support for Timorese

Aug 7, 1999 | HIstory

A powerful interview with José Ramos-Horta at the height of militia violence in East Timor, as he asks the international community for support of his people. 




00:00Charlie Rose: We continue now our discussion on the crisis in East Timor with JOSE RAMOS-HORTA. He is the leader of the campaign against Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor, the former Portuguese colony. He is also the co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Bishop Carlos Belo. This is his second appearance on this program, and I’m pleased to have him back to help us understand what is going on following our conversation with the ambassador from Indonesia to the United Nations. Welcome back. You’d rather be in East Timor.

00:32Jose Ramos Horta: Yes, I would rather be there. I should be there, if the Indonesian side, the Indonesian government, had had the integrity, the honesty, the ability to honor their pledges, their commitment to disarm the militias which they started by arming them many months ago, to pull out their troops, at least reduce them, as they had pledged, to control any violence, if any occur. That was the pledge, to be neutral, to be honest, that was the pledge. All their promises, all their pledges, to the U.N., to the secretary-general, to their friends, like the U.S. administration, Australia, they broke them.

01:13Charlie Rose: Why?

01:17Jose Ramos Horta: There is a faction — at least one faction or two in the powerful Indonesian Army, the special troops and the Army Intelligence who are a law unto themselves. They went to East Timor 25 years ago. Many soldiers were killed there, lost their lives there. They built an economic and financial empire out of East Timor. They have the monopolies on the coffee, one of the best coffees in the world. They have a monopoly on the sandalwood trade, marble, import-export business. And they have the full control over the (unintelligible) control large portions of the state budget allocated for East Timor.

02:00Charlie Rose: But then are you saying this is the military or some faction of the military and it is not the Indonesian government? And, if Habibie wanted to do something about the militia going crazy there, he couldn’t?

02:12Jose Ramos Horta: It seems like because the president–

02:15Charlie Rose: So, you believe Habibie– to interrupt you–

02:17Jose Ramos Horta: Yes.

02:19Charlie Rose: You believe Habibie wants to do the right thing?

02:21Jose Ramos Horta: Yes, I believe that President B.J. Habibie genuine he wanted to resolve the problem of East Timor. Or, to put it more appropriately as Habibie himself probably would put it, to ”dump East Timor” because it’s too costly to Indonesia. It was never part of Indonesia. So, he is the one who set off this whole process.

02:37Charlie Rose: Right.

02:39Jose Ramos Horta: But there are those hardliners in the army, in the intelligence branch of the army and the special troops who have their own agenda. They have disdain towards the president because they don’t like his pragmatic views. He does– like, his reformist policies. So, they set out to destabilize the administration of B.J. Habibie.

03:01Charlie Rose: And they’re doing that by what means?

03:04Jose Ramos Horta: Foment violence in East Timor, create militia groups which they recruit not East Timor only. They recruit them as far away as elsewhere in Indonesia, Java. They foment violence in Aceh, the other Indonesian province where there has been daily occurrence of violence — ethnic and religious violence. In Ambon. By having this systematic, widespread campaign of destabilization, they undermine the democratic reforms and maintain their privilege which they had for 30 years.

03:36Charlie Rose: Let me make two points. One — when I last saw you, you were on your way back to East Timor. Why didn’t you go back?

03:46Jose Ramos Horta: I end up not going back first because the Indonesian government refused to grant me access to East Timor.

03:50Charlie Rose: They said you could come to Jakarta, but you couldn’t go further.

03:54Jose Ramos Horta: Yes, absolutely. I went to Indonesia. I was very warmly received by the people there, by the media. But, when I wanted to exercise my very basic, simple rights as an East Timorese, to go back to my country, to participate in the political campaigning there for the referendum, they said flatly, ”No.” So, I was not able to go back and in the meantime, the Indonesian Special Branch, the COPAS (sp) or the special troops, and the army intelligence escalate the violence in the territory.

04:29Charlie Rose: What do you make of the point that they released Gusmao to go to the British embassy?

04:34Jose Ramos Horta: First–

04:36Charlie Rose: Who you saw when you made your last visit.

04:40Jose Ramos Horta: Yes. I could say only that I hope the Indonesian government are not expecting me to express a word of appreciation for now having released Xanana Gusmao. If they had had the decency, the integrity, to release him six months ago and take part in the political campaign in East Timor, maybe they would have earned some word of appreciation on our part. They destroy our country. They destroy buildings in Dili in the last few days. They are uprooting tens of thousands of people. The lowest estimate by the United Nations is at least over 30,000 people have been forcibly removed from their land, taken to Indonesia. Tens of thousands are displaced internally, gone to the mountains. In the next few days, weeks, if there is no end to this conflict, if there is no humanitarian agencies entering the territory, we will face a catastrophic famine. Thousands will die like flies.

05:52Charlie Rose: And is it the moral imperative of the United Nations and of member-states and of the United States– moral imperative to do something?

06:05Jose Ramos Horta: Yes, after all, first it’s a question of human decency not to allow tyrants to abuse, to kill, innocent people. There is also the obligation of the United Nations itself because — remember — our people trusted the U.N. when the U.N. began to arrive in East Timor. They took chances. They went to do the registration for the vote, for the ballot. People walked miles and miles hours on end, challenging the violence unleashed against them by the Indonesian Army. They register. Almost 100 percent of eligible voters register. Then violence was intensified to intimidate them into not voting. August 30, the day of the ballot, to the surprise of everybody, almost 100 percent of the registered voters went to cast their ballot because they trust international community. They voted overwhelmingly for independence — 80 percent almost. In spite of–

07:16Charlie Rose: (crosstalk) So, the international community owes it to those people who risked their lives to exercise democratic principles?

07:23Jose Ramos Horta: Yes, yes.

07:25Charlie Rose: And whatever it takes to stop the violence, they ought to do it. If that means sending troops to East Timor, send troops.

07:31Jose Ramos Horta: Yes, we could.

07:33Charlie Rose: And, if that means that the Indonesian government says ”no” — you know? — ”You can’t do that,” then they should say to the Indonesian government what?

07:42Jose Ramos Horta: Let me mention a basic parallel. NATO countries went to Kosovo, bombed Serbia back to stone age because of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Yet Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia. East Timor was never an integral part of Indonesia. The United Nations never recognized the Indonesia illegal annexation of East Timor. Indonesia has signed–

08:08Charlie Rose: But we didn’t protest it.

08:10Jose Ramos Horta: The Security Council protested — unanimous decision of the Security Council condemned the invasion.

08:15Charlie Rose: No, I’m sorry. I was thinking about the United States not the–08:19Jose Ramos Horta: Not United States, yes.

08:21Charlie Rose: United States. ‘Cause it was comfortable with the Indonesians.

08:26Jose Ramos Horta: Yes, exactly. But the Security Council adopted unanimous decision condemning that invasion. So, the U.N. never recognized annexation. So, Indonesia is, in fact, in illegal occupation of that area for 23 years.

08:37Charlie Rose: So, let me come to this. You know the United Nations. It’s one of the places where you’ve been making the case for East Timor. What do you expect the United Nations will do?

08:47Jose Ramos Horta: I expect that the secretary-general, the members of the Security Council, if Jakarta fails to invite the United Nations to work with Indonesia, bringing in peace-keeping troops into the territory, then the U.N. must simply say, if we do not have an invitation, we are going in anyway. And, if United States and other Western countries have any moral decency left, they must use the World Bank, the IMF to stop funding to Indonesia because, after all, it seems like Indonesia has no problems of money. They are wasting millions of dollars in destroying someone else countries. So, why giving– IMF giving $75 billion to Indonesia? Why the World Bank giving billions of dollars to Indonesia? What about American taxpayers giving money to the World Bank? Why should a U.S. Congress keep releasing money to IMF, to the World Bank for them to fund despotic regimes around the world that commit genocide. No. I think it is wrong. And I plead with the U.S. Congress, with the U.S. administration, to get the 10:00Imf: So, apply economic pressure.

10:02Jose Ramos Horta: Economic pressure.

10:03Charlie Rose: And, if that doesn’t work?

10:05Jose Ramos Horta: If that still doesn’t work, then military intervention. But military intervention has to be in the next few days, in a week or two weeks the latest. Otherwise–

10:13Charlie Rose: So, tell me what you think the U.N.– is there a willingness on the part of the U.N. Security Council to do this?

10:18Jose Ramos Horta: Yes, there is– I have found strong support among members of the Security Council. The secretary-general– I not say. He is blameless in this– on this issue. He has used all his credibility, moral authority, power of persuasion–

10:32Charlie Rose: To get the Security Council to move?

10:34Jose Ramos Horta: To act. And the Indonesians to fulfill their pledges. What sometimes I find totally unfair is that, when the U.N. fail in something, everybody target the secretary-general and his staff as punching bag, when in fact mostly when the U.N. failed is because countries that should stand up to the U.N. for principles, supporting the organization they belong to, they are the ones who fail — United States, the Europeans, Russia, China. They’re members of Security Council because if they don’t want to act because of their own national interests — sometimes very narrow interest — then, of course, the secretary-general has very limited power.

11:22Charlie Rose: If there was a vote tonight in the Security Council on sending peace-keeping troops to East Timor, regardless of what the Indonesians said — a member-state — what do you think the Security Council vote would be?

11:34Jose Ramos Horta: I think we would get a clear majority in support because–

11:38Charlie Rose: But you can have a veto-power in the Security Council. So, therefore, there would be no peace-keeping force.

11:46Jose Ramos Horta: I hope there’ll be no veto-power because, if on such an issue that is so clear-cut of morality, of decency, and besides it is an issue that has been on the agenda of the U.N. Security Council for so many years. The Security Council adopted unanimous decisions condemning the invasion. And yet a member of Security Council veto? Well, should we keep having the Security Council? Or the U.N. for that matter? Yes, because if the U.N. fails in East Timor now millions of people around the world will hesitate in the future to have anything to do with the United Nations. It will be the credibility of the U.N. that will be impacted.12:25Charlie Rose: So, the credibility of the U.N. hinges on what happens in East Timor?

12:29Jose Ramos Horta: Yes. Because this is a clear-cut issue of human lives, of decency.

12:35Charlie Rose: Well, so was Kosovo and so was Rwanda and so is–

12:40Jose Ramos Horta: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. Precisely because of that. That, having failed elsewhere, here is a case where they could shine, recover some lost credibility. And if even here they fail — yet again — I wonder, ”Why would I bother with the U.N.?”

12:59Charlie Rose: Sure. Who’s encouraging the militia? Or whoever’s responsible for this–

13:04Jose Ramos Horta: The militias are–

13:06Charlie Rose: –intimidation and violence.

13:08Jose Ramos Horta: The militias are a fiction. Who are the militias? More than half of them are not even natives from East Timor. They are recruited among the criminal gangs in Indonesia itself, then shipped to East Timor because they are criminals, because they are unemployed. They have nothing to do with East Timor, no cultural ties with East Timor. Well, these are the best people for the army to send– to send to East Timor, doing nothing to restrain them. They loot. Everything in the city today has been looted.

13:37Charlie Rose: Yeah. Are you hopeful or pessimistic?

13:40Jose Ramos Horta: Oh, no. I’m hopeful. I hopeful. What the Indonesian action in Dili in the destruction of the city — communications, water system, electricity — reminds me of the Iraqi destruction of Kuwait before they left. They destroyed the oil fields and everything–

13:58Charlie Rose: But why does that make you hopeful? The destruction in Dili.

14:05Jose Ramos Horta: No, it is not that that makes me hopeful. What it makes me hopeful is that no matter the violence they unleashing against us, such kind of behavior, such kind of attitude cannot survive.

14:18Charlie Rose: Do you get any sense that notwithstanding lead stories in the New York Times and other– The Washington Post and other major newspapers in the America and because of the nature of the violence and because it’s August as well that this has gotten a lot of attention in the press–

14:35Jose Ramos Horta: Yes.

14:37Charlie Rose: –that it hasn’t generated more of an urgency to do something?

14:42Jose Ramos Horta: No, I–

14:44Charlie Rose: It’s too small. It’s too far away. And who knows? And who cares?

14:52Jose Ramos Horta: No, I think justice must be made. The United Nations staff, the secretary-general and his staff — they’ve been meeting hours on end for several days. In many capitals, I think credit goes to the Australian government. The Australian people are standing up. Many European countries — the British, in fact, the French are offering support– troops for any peace-keeping. And the newly appointed U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke has been working–

15:22Charlie Rose: Yeah, so who stands in the– well– who stands in the way of doing something?

15:27Jose Ramos Horta: Well, I think we are going to hear–

15:29Charlie Rose: The Chinese?

15:31Jose Ramos Horta: No, I don’t think the Chinese are standing in the way. There is a little country– a little country in the Security Council, smaller than East Timor. Some of its neighbors would like to invade it, and yet it is that little country that has been the most obnoxious support of Indonesia. And that’s Bahrain.

15:51Charlie Rose: Yeah?

15:54Jose Ramos Horta: Bahrain is smaller than my country. Iran and the Qatar have some interests on Bahrain, similar to Iraqi ambitions on Kuwait in the past.

16:02Charlie Rose: Yeah.

16:05Jose Ramos Horta: So, the permanent representative of Bahrain has been the most vocal opponent of East Timor, supporter of Indonesia in the Security Council. Of course, Bahrain alone cannot control the Security Council. The permanent members, the five who have veto power, are the ones who in the end will have to make a decision. But I trust that the mission of the Security Council that is in Indonesia right now might succeed in persuading the Indonesian president that he should issue an invitation to the Security Council to have a–

16:36Charlie Rose: Send peace-keeping forces.

16:39Jose Ramos Horta: –a peace-keeping force to East Timor for the best interests of Indonesia and for the best interests of the United Nations and the people of East Timor because we are facing here a situation where the authority of the president of Indonesia itself is threatened by a group of army people who are a law unto themselves. The president of Indonesia, B.J. Habibie, I believe he’s sincere. He wants to resolve the problem of East Timor. But he is challenged in his authority by these elements who are committing a genocide in East Timor. For that– and for that alone, the U.N. Security Council should intervene in East Timor.

17:13Charlie Rose: Thank you.

17:15Jose Ramos Horta: Thank you.

17:17Charlie Rose: Good to have you back. JOSE RAMOS-HORTA. Thank you for joining us.