Ramos-Horta looking forward to quiet life after Africa peace mission | Connect Asia

Ramos-Horta looking forward to quiet life after Africa peace mission

Ramos-Horta looking forward to quiet life after Africa peace mission

Updated 19 July 2013, 15:36 AEST

In 2006, the United Nations was heading for transition and the search was on to find a replacement for Kofi Annan as Secretary-General.

One name that kept cropping up was that of Jose Ramos Horta, who was then the Foreign Minister of the world's newest and smallest nation, East Timor.

Mr Ramos-Horta appeared on Connect Asia during the programme's first week to talk about the speculation and his interest in the job.

He's now serving as UN special representative to Guinea-Bissau and is presently in Mozambique.

The former president and prime minister speaks about the extraordinary events in East Timor over the past seven years....and about that job at the UN.

Presenter:Richard Ewart

Speaker: Jose Ramos-Horta, former President of East Timor and now UN special representative to Guinea-Bissau

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RAMOS-HORTA: I was never a candidate, I never submitted an application, I never express formally at least, interest. I was honoured that some significant players in the Security Council approach me, namely the United States, France. I was interviewed in Washington, New York, I had strong support in the US Senate, I met with many congressional senate leaders, some even said if I decided to run, the US Congress would be my campaign headquarters, that's how they put it. But back then, I told everybody that my first responsibility was to my own country, Timor Leste, if I were not to be a good leader in my country, I would not be a good leader anywhere. Because at a time, there were already looming tensions in Timor Leste, which culminated in the 2006 crisis. So I focused on that in helping my own country to return to normality, to peace and stability.

EWART: And, of course, you went on to hold the highest political offices in your country and to take the country through its infancy and I can't imagine, you really knew exactly what lay ahead and the sort of obstacles you were going to have to overcome?

RAMOS-HORTA: I accepted only to be Foreign Minister, I told the Prime Minister at the time, Dr Mari Alkatiri that I will stay on only till May, 2007, and then I would quit for good.

Well, things didn't turn out the way I wanted, I planned. In 2006, we had political security crisis. I was asked to serve as the first minister following the resignation of the then foreign minister. Weeks later, I was asked to serve as Prime Minister, following the resignation of Dr Mari Alkatiri. I serve as Prime Minister in the midst of the worst challenge our country faced in 2006-2007. Then I was asked to run for President. I was asked by Xanana Gusmao to run for President, which I did and well, the story is known to all. I served for five years, almost lost my life in 2008, miraculous survived thanks to those great doctors in Dili and the Aspen Medical Centre of the Australian Army. Thanks to the Australian Army people who gave me blood and thanks to those generous, brilliant doctors at Royal Darwin Hospital, in Darwin, I'm alive.

EWART: It is an extraordinary story that you've encapsulated there. When you look back on the fact, that as you say, you almost lost your life serving your country as President. In your heart of hearts, do you believe that you still did the right thing, putting yourself at such tremendous risk was the right thing to do or do you think back to the earlier days when you wanted to walk away from politics that you might have been better personally to have done that?

RAMOS-HORTA: Well, maybe personally what I should have done, could have done, was as I planned '99, leaving the Timorese political scene, political life, doing what I wanted to do, writing and studying, lecturing, but often we are not always in control of our lives, particularly in the situation of my country, Timor Leste, maybe we couldn't have the luxury of having someone like me retiring when my colleagues, Xanana Gusmao, and others needed me to help them. So my best personal plans didn't happen and, of course, I didn't plan to be shot, to be wounded. This happened as part of the challenges in building peace in preventing conflicts, in ending conflicts. And what happened was totally unexpected, a shock to everybody, but in the end, my near death is the single most, dramatic and important fact that stopped the violence in Timor Leste.

From the moment I was shot, the country in shock, stood still and violence stopped right away all over the country. The youth particularly were involved in violence, the renegade soldiers with weapons in the mountains they surrender. They themselves were disoriented, they didn't know how this could have happened and then they made an announcement that whilst President Ramos Horta is out of hospital, we will surrender. So upon my return to Timor Leste, on April 17, 2008, a few days later, in a ceremony in Dili, the rebel officers, soldiers surrendered with their weapons. So not a single one of them, not a single weapon was left. So that was the beginning of the consolidation of peace and security in our country.

EWART: You came close to losing your life. You talked about the impact that its had on the country. What about the impact it had on you. Despite everything, you plainly haven't lost the appetite for a challenge. We now find you as the UN envoy to Guinea-Bissau, a country that's had a lot of problems of its own and you're there now, partly, obviously to try and help propel that country into the future in peace. So when do you think it will stop, when will your appetite for these really, frankly dangerous situations will dwindle?

RAMOS-HORTA: Well, I wouldn't say appetite, but the Secretary-General asked me, the United Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, a wonderful human being, whom I know well and when the Secretary-General asked me to try to help a conflict in a corner of the world, well I couldn't say no, particularly knowing the country. And I have to say, I have been extremely well received in the country, by everybody, from the military leaders who did a coup, they listened to me, political leaders, the common people in the streets. I travel all over the country, I meet with everybody from A-Z. People have high expectations. And, I have to say, since I arrived, now six months ago, the situation has changed from a period of enormous polarisation in the country, political tensions, fears, lack of dialogue, total diplomatic isolation of the country. Today, six months later, as I will report this morning in Maputo, Mozambique, to the foreign ministers of the Portuguese-speaking countries, the situation has changed. There is much less tension in the country, there's ongoing dialogue, political progress, elections are scheduled for the end of November, this year, political parties that in the past did not talk, they're talking to each other, they're celebrating agreements, coalitions, commitments to work together and the international community are happy with what is happening in Guinea-Bissau.

And I hope that I can leave in another six months from now, delivering peace and having fulfiled the commitment made to the Secretary-General to resolve that conflict. But I have to emphasise, whatever progress we are making there in Guinea-Bissau, is not thanks to Jose Ramos Horta, but thanks particularly to the people there, the Bissau-Guinean people, but also other international partners, throw open their doors to me, helping me, supporting what I'm doing in Guinea-Bissau and that's why we are succeeding.

EWART: You say that the hope is that you may leave Guinea-Bissau in six months time, and hopefully mission accomplished there.

Ban Ki-moon remains in post as UN Secretary-General for another three years I believe until the end of 2016. Could you see yourself, maybe putting yourself forward for the job at that point?

RAMOS-HORTA: No, that is only in my next life. I believe in reincarnation, The only danger with reincarnation is you do not necessarily reincarnate as a human being. You can reincarnate as a bird, you can reincarnate as a fish, a dog. I hope I will not reincarnate a dog, particularly in Timor Leste. We don't treat our dogs very well, and so it is possible, so conceivable in my next life. Because a) I'm 63, b) After Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, I believe it will be the turn of Europe to nominate a Secretary-General and there will be no lacking of candidates, so my plan is to go back to Timor Leste, in six months from now, become a totally private citizen.

EWART: But does you're own personal history, not suggest, that if the right people came knocking, that you might be hard pressed to turn them down?

RAMOS-HORTA: No, now I'm very determined not to engage in any dramatic challenge. I will go back and spend time with family, with the country, with the people there, not necessarily in any official capacity, but always available to the President, the Prime Minister, if they need me to do one-off, specific missions to help the country, consolidate in peace or engage in international community, I will do so as a citizen, as a former President.

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