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The Frost Interview

Jose Ramos-Horta: Lessons in patience

The former leader of East Timor on his remarkable journey from activist to politician to Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Last Modified: 01 Dec 2012 09:46

In 1975, Jose Ramos-Horta, the then foreign minister of the newly-liberated nation of East Timor, was sent by his country's prime minister to New York. By the time his plane landed in the US, his country had been invaded and annexed by Indonesia.

In a revealing interview, Sir David Frost travels to East Timor to meet the Nobel laureate and hear his remarkable story.

"I got involved in politics by [an] accident of history," Ramos-Horta says.

He tells Sir David of his arrival in the US: "That particular year, December '75, was very, very snowy. I had never seen snow in my life .... I had to be very careful not to fall off because it was very slippery, and I didn't have proper shoes. I had a very light summer jacket instead of a winter coat or winter jacket. So that's when I began my lobbying at the UN Security Council."

Ramos-Horta's short visit to New York became a 24-year stay, during which he patiently lobbied for Indonesian withdrawal from East Timor.

Meanwhile, back in his country, hundreds of thousands of Timorese - including three of his siblings - died.

In 1996, Ramos-Horta was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his campaign. As he tells Sir David, it was an unexpected award.

"It was the nicest surprise," he says, adding that he was also slightly "embarrassed", feeling that there were others from within his liberation movement who deserved to win it more.

After that, Ramos-Horta was still a man without a country, but his award helped to bring renewed world attention to the plight of East Timor. International events, together with added pressure from then US President Bill Clinton, led to Indonesia eventually withdrawing from East Timor.

"Things were looking much more promising," Ramos-Horta says of the years that Clinton held office.

But the withdrawal was also a heartbreaking time for him; pro-Indonesian militia - often aided by official forces - set fire to many buildings and burned some 85 per cent of the country's infrastructure before they left.

"The human cost was overwhelming. And sometimes I philosophically ... ask myself whether it is worth sacrificing a single life for the sake of having an independent country," he says.

But the way was clear for Ramos-Horta to return to East Timor to retake his role as foreign minister.

Over subsequent years he would serve as prime minister and president of East Timor. But in 2008, as he tells Sir David, he was shot twice in a botched assassination attempt. After a two-month recovery period, he returned to office, calling on the rebels to surrender to avoid any more bloodshed.

"I believe in being compassionate," he says.

"I was given the gift of life, and God saved me, the doctors saved me. And maybe by almost paying with my life, we bought peace. Because the moment I was shot, the country stood still, the violence stopped, people who were fighting each other before stopped fighting, the rebels surrendered. And until now, we have been at peace." 


The Frost Interview can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Friday: 2000; Saturday: 1200; Sunday: 0100; Monday: 0600.

Click here for more The Frost Interview

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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