Jose Ramos Horta, E. Timor President, endorses full UN membership for Palestine

Writing for the Huffington Post, East Timor’s President Jose Ramos Horta endorsed [in September, just days before PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas actually deposited the request] Palestine’s “UN bid” for full membership in the international organization.

Ramos Horta, who was co-awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996, alongside East Timor’s Archbiship Belo, for their efforts for self-determination and peace in East Timor, wrote in his article, published on 19 September, that “Arguments against full Palestinian UN membership are not persuasive“.

    “The Palestinians, having waited for 20 years since the Oslo Accords, that promised them a full sovereign Palestinian State living along side with the state of Israel, have decided to seek full UN membership status now. They have every right to do so and I do not see how a Palestinian State that is a full member of the UN would be detrimental to Israel and US interests. Full UN membership carries with it not only rights but in equal manner duties and responsibilities, among them, the obligation to not allow its territory to be used to launch attacks on other countries…
    “The dilemma and challenge for Israel is to vacate most of West Bank. But Israeli leaders and settlers are the ones who created this problem for themselves and must now have the courage and wisdom to leave West Bank and hand over the settlements to the Palestinian authorities. A special fund could be set up, led by the US and Europe, to buy back from Israel the thousands of housing units, schools, health clinics, etc scattered in the West Bank. While no amount of money would ever suffice to buy back the lives lost, Palestinians would receive high quality infrastructures that in some way would constitute a small form of compensation for decades of humiliation and dispossession…
    “To my friends in Israel and the US, I will say, do not oppose Palestinian UN membership; support it instead. Provide the financial means the Palestinian leaders need to turn their economy around. Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu told me in his office in Jerusalem earlier this year that he wanted to see an economically prosperous Palestinian state. I believe he meant it. Now is his chance to show vision and bold leadership by endorsing Palestinian UN membership, lift the Gaza blockade, and facilitate trade…
    “I have heard arguments from all sides. Arguments against full Palestinian UN membership are not persuasive. After more than 60 years of absence, to a great extent due to past Palestinian and Arab leaderships miscalculations, it is time that the five million Palestinians living in West Bank and Gaza, and the many others scattered in the region and elsewhere, see their national flag hoisted along aside that of other powers of the world, great and small, rich and poor”.

    [Jose Ramos-Horta, 1996 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and President of Timor-Leste, made State Visits to Israel and Palestine earlier this year.]

This article by East Timor’s President Jose Ramos Horta, recommending full UN membership for the State of Palestine, is posted here.

East Timor leader Ramos-Horta tells UN to stop investigation into 1999 killings

Reports today in the Australian press state that “East Timor president Jose Ramos-Horta has said he wants the United Nations to drop its investigation into bloodshed surrounding a 1999 independence vote from Indonesia. Leaders in East Timor and Indonesia said in July that the issue was closed after expressing regret at the findings of a joint truth commission that blamed Indonesian security and civilian forces for ‘gross human rights violations. But the United Nations, which boycotted the truth commission, has said it will continue to back prosecutions through the Serious Crime Unit” … President Ramos-Horta, however, said that “As chief of state, I don’t authorize or allow the UN investigation into the 1999 crimes. Our position is keeping good ties with Indonesia”…

UPDATE: Jose Ramos Horta recovering, but still in intensive care

…And the UN Security Council extended the mandate, on Monday, of the UN Integrated Mission in East Timor (UNMIT) for another full year, as UNMIT announced in Dili the surrender of one a wanted fugitive, apparently “a follower of Alfredo Reinado, the opposition leader who was killed during the attack on President Jose Ramos-Horta” The fugitive, who was not named, “had also been the target of investigations by the UN Independent Special Commission of Inquiry for Timor-Leste, which was set up to investigate the deadly incidents of April-May 2006”, according to a report by UN News Centre [which uses British English spellings], published here.

Jose Ramos Horta was brought out of a 10-day induced coma over the weekend, but he is still in intensive care at the Royal Darwin Hospital in Australia, where he may stay for several more months of medical treatement.

In the resolution adopted Monday, the UNSC again condemned “in the strongest possible terms the attacks on the President and Prime-Minister of Timor-Leste on 11 February 2008 and all attempts to destabilize the country, noting that these heinous acts represent an attack on the legitimate institutions of Timor-Leste, and welcomes the swift and constructive reaction by the neighbouring countries”. And it called “on the Government of Timor-Leste to bring to justice those responsible for this heinous act”…

The AP reported that “The attacks [against Jose Ramos Horta, and against Xanana Gusmao, who was not injured] were apparently a sudden escalation in a bitter dispute between the government and several hundred ex-soldiers who were fired in 2006 after going on strike to protest alleged discrimination”. According to AP, the UN “still has 33 military observers and about 1,500 international police and 1,200 civilians in the country”, while Australia has reinforced its military presence there by 1,000 armed forces and a warship stationed off the coast. This AP report can be found here.

The 2006 violence apparently arose from tensions between Timorese from the eastern and western parts of the territory, and between two sectors of the security forces — the army and the police.

Monday’s UN SC resolution “Requests UNMIT, working with partners, to intensify its efforts to assist with further training, mentoring, institutional development and strengthening of PNTL [the National Police of East Timor] …while continuing to ensure, through the presence of UNMIT police component, the restoration and maintenance of public security in Timor-Leste through the provision of support to PNTL, which includes interim law enforcement and public security until PNTL is reconstituted”

And, it “Welcomes the Secretary-General’s intention to send an expert mission to UNMIT in the first quarter of 2008 to conduct a thorough assessment of the requirements of the national police as well as possible adjustments needed to UNMIT police skill sets; and requests him to inform the Council of the finding of the expert mission”.

This UNSC resolution is reproduced here.

Meanwhile, a few days ago, AFP reported that “Hospital general manager Dr Len Notaras told AFP the president was aware that he had been shot but was probably unsure about details of the attack after being unconscious for so long. ‘He certainly knows he was shot and that it was a very traumatic event. As to who did it and the rest of it, I’m not too sure about that and I would say that given the trauma there’s probably a degree of confusion’, he said. The president had responded well to five operations to repair the damage caused by bullet wounds to the back and chest, including significant reconstruction work, Notaras said … Notaras said he expected Ramos-Horta to remain in intensive care for perhaps another week before the leader was in good enough condition to be moved to a more general area of the hospital. Asked for a timeline for the president’s recovery and ability to return to East Timor and to work, the doctor said he expected him to be up and moving ‘and possibly able to make decisions’ in the next few weeks. ‘But in terms of being able to be fully active and moving around with the punishing lifestyle of a president, I expect he will need more convalescence before he gets to that particular state’, Notaras said. The type of injuries Ramos-Horta suffered could take from six to eight weeks to heal in a basic sense, and up to six months overall, Notaras said. ‘He has missed the last ten days of his life. Once he has the ability to reorient himself he will be able to be a lot clearer in his thoughts’, he said. ‘But we need to keep him in a relaxed and stress-free environment so he can let his body heal’.” This AP report is posted here.

Jose (Ramos Horta) is hanging in there

The President of East Timor is down — but not out.  He is hanging in there, after taking three apparently high-speed bullets.

The Agence France Press (AFP) news agency reported that “Ramos-Horta was in a serious but stable condition after emergency overnight surgery for bullet wounds, according to his doctors in the Australian city of Darwin where he was airlifted Monday. ‘I believe he is extremely lucky to be alive’, Royal Darwin Hospital general manager Len Notaras said. Ramos-Horta, 58, underwent two-and-a-half hours of surgery late Monday and was in intensive care after his second operation in 24 hours, the doctor told AFP. He said the doctors were treating three bullet wounds and Ramos-Horta would need a further operation within 36 hours. The president was sedated and on a ventilator but not on life support, and would remain unconscious until at least Thursday, Notaras said, adding that he expected him to make a full recovery barring any unforeseen complications”.

Interestingly, the AFP story added that “East Timor’s military chief demanded an explanation Tuesday as to how the renegade soldiers were able to reach the homes of the nation’s two top leaders. ‘Given the big number of international forces present in Timor-Leste, in particular in Dili, how is it possible that vehicles transporting armed people have entered the city and executed an approach to the residences of the president and prime minister without having been detected?’ Brigadier General Taur Matan Ruak asked in a statement he read out at the military headquarters. He called for a ‘complete international investigation’ into the events. This AFP report is posted strong>here.

The NY Times reported yesterday that some very knowledgable observers were mystified by the motivation of the purported attacker, Alfredo Reinado, leader of mutinous soldiers, who was supposedly killed during his attempt to assassinate Ramos Horta.

The Associated Press reported from the United Nations that “The Security Council in a statement Monday called on the nation’s people to remain calm and for its government ‘to bring those responsible for this heinous act’ to justice. South Africa’s UN Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, who led a council mission to East Timor, told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York that the president was shot as he took his regular morning walk. ‘One report is that they went to the house looking for him and discovered that he was on his walk and that’s where they attacked him’, Kumalo said. ‘He’s a very simple man … a man of the people and sometimes you pay a price for that’.”

The same AP report added these medical details from Dili and Australia: “Ramos-Horta, 58, first underwent surgery at an Australian army hospital in East Timor before being sedated, attached to a ventilator and airlifted to the hospital in the northern Australian city of Darwin. Notaros said Ramos-Horta’s wounds indicated he had been shot two or three times. The most serious wound was to his the lower part of his right lung near his liver, and would likely require more surgery. There was also a risk of sepsis infection, Notaros said. The fragments will be handed to Australia Federal Police for the investigation into the shooting, Notaros said. At least one fragment was being left in his body, and was not thought to be threatening, he said…” This AP report can be found here.

Jose Ramos Horta shot

Shock. Jose Ramos Horta is not the kind of guy who gets shot — even if he was a member of a liberation movement in exile, and is now the second elected President of recently-independent but still troubled East Timor. He is gentle, conciliatory (mostly), and determinedly non-violent.

Reuters photo in The Age of Ramos Horta being taken into Royal Darwin Hospital in Australia

But apparently about 12 hours ago, he was shot, three times, in an attack in which, it now appears, one of his body guards and at least one of the attackers were killed.

Jill Jolliffe, a journalist who has long specialized in East Timorese affairs, and who had just returned from a trip there, said in an audio report for The Age of Australia that Jose Ramos Horta was shot during a “heavy exchange of fire” that she said she had been told had lasted about 20 minutes. The area is now under the control of Portuguese UN troops, Jolliffe said.

Yes, he was my friend, too. Or, perhaps I should rather say that I am his friend … and I, too, am praying for him now, as I have in the past. He got more or less introduced himself, either in late 1979 or early 1980, in the corridor between the Security Council chambers and the Delegate’s Lounge at UNHQ/New York, where he spent many years in exile, rather sucessfully lobbying (from a position of real initial weakness) and representing his people’s cause at the United Nations with the support of Mozambique, then China, then Portugal, and some American and NGO sympathizers. He said he loved Japanese food and sushi. And he made a delicious chicken-and-celery stew that he served with rice.

But, all the journalists knew him.

He had many friends — and very few enemies. He even worked hard to distinguish between the Indonesian (Muslim) military personnel who persecuted his people (mostly Catholics), and other Indonesian political figures, who he sought out over the years, as he tried to build alliances and find a political resolution to his people’s oppression.

But, religious allegiances were important to him, not least because of their political significance …

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996, jointly with the Roman Catholic Bishop Belo of Dili.

As CNN wrote today, “East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, gained independence in 2002 after voting to break free from more than two decades of brutal Indonesian occupation in a U.N.-sponsored ballot”.

They won, while other liberation movements have languished and floundered. They gained their independence –both by luck and by the political skill of the Fretilin and associated Timorese liberation leaders, not least among them Jose Ramos Horta.

The BBC reported that “The attack on Mr Ramos-Horta happened at around 0700 local time on Monday morning (2200 GMT Sunday). Two cars drove past the president’s house on the outskirts of the capital, Dili, shooting him on the road outside”. The BBC headline reads: “East Timor President shot by rebels” — a line in tone with comments on the attack by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who said, according to the BBC report, that the “attempt to assassinate the democratically elected leadership of a close friend and neighbour of Australia’s is a deeply disturbing development … It’s obviously a destabilizing time, with rogue elements at play. Therefore an appropriate show of force is necessary.”

Ramos Horta’s condition is described as critical, but stable. He underwent initial surgery at an Australian military hospital in East Timor, and has been flown to Darwin, Australia for further treatment. A medical update says he has been put in an induced coma and is on a ventilator, in intensive care.

The attacker who was killed, reportedly, is the notorious / legendary Rebel leader Alfredo Reinado. That is simply amazing. Why would he come out of hiding to carry out such a high-profile attack? Does it make any sense? He would know that there would be some sort of security around the country’s president. Unless, of course,it was an attempt to get very personal revenge … Or, unless the whole thing is a horrible set-up in a very dark drama …

IF this report is true — IF it is confirmed, Australian reporter Jolliffe said — then she said that she fears violence from both his young supporters, and also from the supporters of Ramos Horta as well.

The Age reports elsewhere that “Police in Dili have shown reporters photos of Reinado’s body, confirming his death in the shootout”. This report can be viewed here.

The Associated Press writes that “Analysts predicted Reinado’s supporters may riot in the coming days, but said his death had removed one of the major obstacles to peace in the country”. This AP report is here.

So some people are happy that Reinado is out of the way…

The BBC says that East Timorese “Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who was also attacked in a second and apparently drive-by shooting, said it was an attempted coup and called for calm….Shots were also fired at the prime minister’s car shortly afterwards, but he was not hurt. Mr Gusmao told a press briefing that the situation was under control. “I consider this incident a coup attempt against the state by Reinado and it failed,” he said. “This government will guarantee security and development will continue.”

Gusmao, Alkatiri and Ramos Horta were all active in the FRETILIN movement for East Timor’s independence. Gusmao stayed inside the country, and led the resistance. He was captured and jailed by Indonesia. Alkatiri (of distant Yemeni origin, therefore distantly Muslim), was the “Foreign Minister”, who otherwise lived in a farm offered as a means of support and self-sufficiency by the Mozambican government down by the border with South Africa. And Ramos Horta was mostly in New York.

In 2002, Gusmao became the country’s first president. Ramos Horta was the Foreign Minister, and Alkatiri became Prime Minister.

Post-“peace” divisions ensued: Ramos Horta and Gusmao were increasingly favor of a close alliance with Australia to “develop” East Timor (having realistically forgiven Australia’s attempt to exploit East Timor’s offshore oilfileds, during the height of the Indonesian military repression and the years that the FRETILIN independence movement was considered hopeless and irrelevant).

Alkatiri was considered more “leftist”. He was forced to resign, and disgraced, after the 2006 riots which he is judged to have mishandled, and was replaced as Prime Minister by Ramos Horta.

In 2007 Ramos Horta and Gusmao changed positions: then-PM Ramos Horta replaced Gusmao as President, and in subsequent elections Gusmao became Prime Minister.

This deepening drama is very strange indeed.