'Hope lives on to get to the bottom of 1999 mayhem'

The relationship between Indonesia and Timor Leste has again been put to the test with recent border incidents and the submission to the UN Secretary-General of a report on atrocities during Jakarta's rule. Timor Leste Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta discussed efforts to improve ties between the two neighbors with The Jakarta Post's Tiarma Siboro, who is visiting Dili.

Question: What is your opinion about the border incidents recently and how did Timor Leste handle those cases to prevent them from recurring?

Answer: The two governments, in a mature fashion, and in the spirit of friendship and based on our very positive and solid relationship, handled this incident effectively as we had handled other incidents in the past with the equal serenity and based on our good relations. For instance, last year, in the month of September, there were several cross-border incidents in Oecussi where hundreds of villagers from western Timor entered East Timor, burned crops and houses, attacked our police and destroyed our police posts. We discussed it with Indonesian authorities and the situation has calmed down. The dispute in Oecussi had to do with some misinformation about the border demarcation process. So, in the case of the shooting incident on Jan. 6, we deeply regret the death of three former East Timorese militiamen. Again, we handled it effectively and we will always preserve the trust and goodwill between the two governments.

We have to work with the Indonesian side. Indonesia has to more effectively prevent armed elements, like former militiamen, from entering East Timor, and from our side, our police need to have a better information exchange and coordination with the Indonesian police. Working with the Indonesian side, we can prevent cross-border violence or robberies. Ties between the two neighbors look to depend on settlement of human rights violations against East Timorese during Jakarta's rule.

What do you think about the way leaders of both nations deal with the past, particularly through the joint truth and friendship commission?

I am very pleased with the state of our relations and I am very impressed with the pragmatism shown by the Indonesian side since the time of Gus Dur (President Abdurrahman Wahid) and during the administration of (president) Megawati. Now the relations have been enhanced due to the leadership of our two current presidents, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Xanana Gusmao. I am also happy with the establishment of the commission of truth and friendship, because we believe that this is the best mechanism to address the issues in the past, particularly the 1999 violence, which left many thousands of people displaced, many others killed and between 70 and 80 percent of the towns destroyed. Someone has to take responsibility. Under the 1999 agreement signed with the UN, Indonesia was in charge of security, but then law and order broke down.

Well, I hope the truth and friendship commission will help establish the truth, answering this question: who is responsible? Therefore the victims will know who is responsible, but more importantly, those responsible will apologize to the victims in the interest of the two countries.

Will the commission's decisions affect the ongoing legal process in Dili against several Indonesian senior military officers?

Well, we have to wait and see about the result of the work of the truth and friendship commission. If the process is transparent and credible, then I am sure it will be accepted by the people here, the people of Indonesia and the international community. And then, yes we can really put the past behind us. So, before they conclude their work, I cannot say whether it will have an impact or not into the ongoing trials in East Timor.

Do you believe that decisions of the truth and friendship commission will give rise to border problems?

We have been doing a lot since 1999 to promote national unity and reconciliation. Many thousands of former supporters of autonomy with Indonesia are now in East Timor. Many are serving in positions in the government. Many are in the Parliament, and in our civil administration. Maybe more than 50 percent of former police, who had served with the Indonesians are on our national police force. This is part of our national reconciliation. We have been working for it very successfully since 1999. There are even many former militiamen - hundreds of them - who were less responsible for the 1999 violence, who have returned to our land, and only the hard-liners are still in (Indonesian west Timor), or elsewhere in Indonesia. But most of them (the militiamen) have returned and nothing happened to them. Not one single case of revenge since 1999. And we must remember that there are almost 300,000 people who left East Timor to West Timor, many were forced to go, now there are less than 20,000 people left in west Timor and half of them are children who were born after 1999. So, when we are talking about former militiamen, there are not that many left in west Timor.

How has the Timor Leste government reacted to the submission of the report to the UN about the atrocities that occurred during Indonesia's rule?

The handing over of the Timor Leste Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) to the Secretary-General of the UN was an obligation imposed by our law to our President. But no action is expected from the Secretary-General of the UN to follow up on the CAVR report. The commissioners who produced the report made some recommendations, some of which are acceptable to the East Timorese government, but others are not, like the recommendation for compensation, demanded from Indonesia, Australia and the United States. Well, our government rejected that part because we do not think it is realistic or fair. But the report is very important, not so much in its conclusions that almost 200,000 people died. The important thing is not the data, because the number could be more or less, but the fact that we learn from the past. We, East Timorese and our Indonesian brothers, need to work together to build a far more peaceful and better society for Indonesia and East Timor. This should be a pedagogical process and exercise for us to look into the past. Yes, we are reminded about the horror of the past as a warning and a lesson, so that the two sides can work together to prevent violence in the future.

*Published by The Jakarta Post on February 24, 2006