EAST TIMOR: 'Time for reconciliation', says Horta



SYDNEY — "East Timorese must ask themselves, why are we still divided? We can't go on holding other countries to blame", the new country's foreign minister Jose Ramos Horta told a public lecture at the University of New South Wales on May 30. "There is need for reconciliation. We need to develop relations with our neighbors and swallow our pride. You can't attract foreign investment without internal stability."

The 1996 Nobel Peace Prize winner believes, however, that "much has been done" to improve the situation in his country.

"The level of tolerance in East Timor has been extradinary", he said. "The first group of militia to visit East Timor were welcomed and received our traditional scarf ... Even the most bitterly divided communities are engaging in dialogue."

"First the truth must be told. The victims have a right to be acknowledged", he said, explaining his view on how reconciliation should occur. "The question is, how far to go in facing the truth. At some time we need to build peace and stability."

Ramos Horta also said he believes the relationship between East Timor and its neighbours is improving.

He recounted the experience of the November 1999 delegation to Indonesia by himself and East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao. "One of our aims was to engage in dialogue and to get them to accept reality. We were warmly received by Indonesian NGOs, the people and the media. This was a new reality."

Ever the diplomat, Ramos Horta was complimentary about Australia's presence in East Timor's development relief, calling it "crucial", and thanked the Australian Labor Party, the Democrats and even the Liberal Party for their efforts.

When asked about whether he supported independence for the troubled Indonesian provinces of Aceh and West Papua, where demands for self-determination are increasing, he was cagey, however.

"Where would it end? Why not independence for every other situation in Asia or Africa. East Timor was always different. It was never part of the Dutch East Indies. It's up the Indonesia to answer these burning questions. I cannot stand here representing an emerging nation and say I support the dismembering of Indonesia."

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