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Interview with East Timor Nobel Laureate Jose Ramos Horta - 2001-08-29

On the eve of East Timor's historic elections, many of the leaders who battled to be free of Indonesian rule, reflect on their experience and the future. Jose Ramos Horta won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for his efforts in the struggle and he is currently serving as the foreign minister in the U.N. transitional government until full independence next year.

VOA Correspondent Scott Bobb: As East Timorese prepare to vote what are your feelings?
Jose Ramos Horta: I am particularly pleased and overjoyed because it is the first time in 500 years that we vote for a constitution towards an independent East Timor and these elections have been completely, absolutely violence free.
Bobb: This is quite remarkable in that some of the fears and expectations were that there would be attempts to destabilize, and reports of problems along the border. Do you foresee any of these either as people vote or after the voting?
Ramos Horta: There could be some instability or frustration at the announcement of the results of the vote by one party or another. But we are taking preventive measures politically but also of a security nature.
Bobb: Another concern that one hears in meeting and talking to people is East Timor ready for self-governance. It has been a very short transitional period, the point from which you began was terrible, the devastation. How do you feel about it?
Ramos Horta: We are ready. Obviously we have a lot of weaknesses, deficiencies, lack of senior managerial people, we lack enough medical doctors, economists, planners. But we haven't been doing too badly either in the last year and a half. The prospects are encouraging. However I must say we still need international community support. We need a couple of hundred of international staff to stay behind after independence. We need peacekeeping forces to stay on after independence for a year or two - although scaled down.
Bobb: As far as the civil administration, the civil service, the various health, education, and so forth, do you feel you have the structures and personnel in place now?
Ramos Horta: We are pretty much in track in terms of recruitment and training of civil servants. We have a target of about 10,000. We have recruited 10,000. However, it will take a few more months for us to consolidate the court system, the judges, the school system is still very deficient, we still lack a sufficient number of qualified teachers, we need a few hundred thousand more textbooks. There is no running water, clean water for the children in the schools. So there are still a lot of problems, but we cannot resolve everything now.
Bobb: It has been announced that recently the truth and reconciliation commission has been formed. How important is the process of reconciliation to the future of East Timor?
Ramos Horta: It is absolutely important. We must put the past where it belongs, heal the wounds. It was not only Indonesia which perpetrated violence here. Before the Indonesians came, the East Timorese fought each other. Two political parties instigated civil war in this country. The two parties must reconcile with the people. Then we had the violence in 1999. Some East Timorese militias were involved. Healing the wounds is very important for the future of the country. And we are working hard on that and our people are very forgiving.
Bobb: Thank you very much.