Former East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta stressed the need to maintain border security with Indonesia as a key part of improving the already close relations with Jakarta.
“Indonesia will forever be our most important neighbor,” he said in an appearance on the “Insight Indonesia” talk show on BeritaSatu TV on Wednesday. “We need the friendship and understanding for the stability on our borders.”
He added that East Timor was also relying on Indonesia’s support to gain membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The 62-year-old Nobel Peace laureate, in Jakarta for the inaugural “Peace and Reconciliation in Southeast Asia” forum hosted by the journal Strategic Review, acknowledged calls to press Indonesia for an apology over the violence that gripped the former Indonesian territory following an independence referendum in 1999.
Rights groups like the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) have demanded that Jakarta offer an official apology to East Timor and hold retired Gen. Wiranto responsible for the post-referendum upheaval that left more than 180,000 people dead from fighting, disease and starvation.
“[An apology] is absolutely necessary as a manifestation of commitment to the agenda of truth and reconciliation for Timor Leste,” said Indria Fernida, the Kontras deputy coordinator.
But Ramos-Horta said there were other pragmatic state interests at stake in the two countries’ relations.
“We are also sympathetic to post-Suharto Indonesia,” he said. “Indonesia was in turmoil, there were dramatic changes, an end of a 30-year regime. I said so many times over the years to our people, [that] we freed ourselves in 1999 because Indonesians freed themselves.”
Ramos-Horta also discussed the presidential election in his country in April, in which he lost his bid for re-election.
“I handed over a country at midnight on May 19 that was peaceful and prospering with double-digit growth in the last five years,” he said. “It is [the new government’s] responsibility to build on that and to do even better.”
He lauded the election process as “remarkable,” both at the technical and administrative levels.
“There was not a single incident or complaint lodged against the behavior of political leaders, parties [or] the national police,” Ramos-Horta said.
He said he hoped that the new president, Jose Maria Vasconcelos, and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao could sustain peacemaking efforts, especially in light of the scheduled withdrawal of some 1,300 United Nations peacekeepers by the end of the year.
“The president and the prime minister have to manage this situation with absolute prudence and wisdom to continue the healing process that was started in 2007,” he said.
He added that angry demonstrations that erupted in the capital, Dili, earlier this week were nothing that the country’s own security forces could not handle. “It was essentially a problem of law and order,” Ramos-Horta said.
He also spoke of promising infrastructure projects that would take place over the next five years, including a new airport, schools and housing.
“It will be a massive investment, but it is guaranteed,” he said.
He said that even though East Timor’s petroleum fund alone could finance all the projects, the government had signed a $100 million soft loan agreement with Japan.
“Talks are also under way with China for a concessionary loan for infrastructure projects,” he added.
Former East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta spoke on Wednesday about the growing relationship between his country and its former ruler. AFP Photo/Roslan Rahman