Ramos Horta to lead East Timor

Jose Ramos Horta, winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, is a figure of towering moral authority, and will hopefully be able to restore both stability and real sovereignty to his nation. But it is painful to watch him take power as the East Timor he struggled to liberate from Indonesia is under de facto occupation by Australia and other foreign powers. From Austrialia’s The Age, July 11:

DILI — Jose Ramos Horta has been sworn in as East Timor’s new Prime Minister, a move aimed at ending weeks of political crisis.

President Xanana Gusmao swore in Mr Ramos Horta yesterday under the watchful gaze of rifle-carrying Australian commandos who have led the 2500-strong international peacekeeping force in East Timor.

Both men, architects of East Timor’s independence from Indonesian rule, then put their signatures to paper to cement the appointment.

The new Prime Minister’s deputies, Agriculture Minister Estanislau da Silva and Health Minister Rui Araujo, attended the swearing-in ceremony along with senior Catholic bishops and foreign diplomats.

Mr Ramos Horta vowed to end his country’s crisis and said he had put on hold his ambition to become United Nations secretary-general. “I am not a person of virtue. I am not Mahatma Gandhi,” he said after he took the oath of office.

“I do not know if I am worthy of the trust that the people have placed in me. May God guide me so that I don’t betray their trust.”

He promised to channel more money to the poor. “The people will not need to stand in line to get the money, but it will go through aid to develop and lift the poor Timor Leste people for the better,” he said, referring to the country’s official name.

“We will work very hard,” he said, pledging to work with the World Bank to accelerate development in rural areas.

Mr Ramos Horta’s name had been floated as a potential successor to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, but he dismissed that in his speech yesterday.

“I have got another mission here,” he said. “I would never be a good UN secretary-general if I was not a good Timorese first, and a good Timorese must be in this country with his people in their moments of crisis.”

The swearing-in ceremony was not attended by the former prime minister, Mari Alkatiri.

One East Timor political leader said Mr Ramos Horta could face opposition from a section of Fretilin, the dominant party with 55 seats in the 88-member parliament.

The head of the Millennium Democratic Party, Hermenegildo Lopes, also said Mr Ramos Horta’s effectiveness would be limited by Mr Gusmao’s decision to name two deputy premiers.

Ian Martin, a UN special envoy, who arrived in East Timor about two weeks ago to assess the need for further UN assistance, has welcomed Mr Ramos Horta’s appointment, saying he hoped it would usher in peace and stability.

He said he would report to Mr Annan on a possible new UN mission as East Timor prepares for a 2007 election.

Meanwhile, the multinational police force in East Timor is gorwing, not decreasing. New Zealand has just dispatched a team of 25 officers. (NZTV, July 11)

See our last post on East Timor.