Hong Kong – Nobel peace laureate Jose Ramos Horta said on Friday he had received commitments from Portugal and other Western nations to help finance East Timor's transition to independence.
Horta dismissed arguments that the troubled province would not be able to survive as an economic entity if it is cut loose from Indonesia, saying the main problem would be how to absorb the funds. "Portugal is prepared to bankroll a United Nations operation if necessary," he told reporters on a brief stopover in Hong Kong.
"The United Kingdom is also prepared to commit troops and funds to a peacekeeping force in Timor and I have had commitments from all the Nordic countries and Brazil," he said after returning from talks with Timorese tribal leaders in the Portuguese-run territory of Macau.
Horta said Portugal had promised aid of up to 300 million US dollars to help finance a transitional authority, as well as pledges of aid and other assistance from private companies and organisations.
"We do not have a problem in looking for funds, but we are conscious at the same time that we have to develop our own resources and economy because we do not want to be an aid-dependent economy," he said.
Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975 and annexed it a year later in a move never recognised by the United Nations.
Indonesian President B.J. Habibie has offered the province wide-ranging autonomy, but in a surprise turnaround has said he will consider full independence if the offer is refused.
But the possibility of independence has sharply raised tension in East Timor, with senior politicians and pro-independence leaders warning of civil war if the province is summarily cast adrift.
Horta said he envisaged a United Nations-run transitional administration for between three to five years to keep the peace and help East Timor build up its democratic institutions.
But he also played down the threat of civil war – a fear raised earlier this week by fellow Nobel laureate Bishop Carlos Belo.
"Yesterday I heard of violence between pro-independence and pro-integration forces," he said. "I tell you frankly, the so called pro-integrationist movement accounts for about 0.5 percent of the country. They do not have either a social or political base. "In the next few weeks the pro-integrationist movement will fizzle out," he said.
Horta met Macau governor General Vasco Rocha Vieira during his trip and plans to return to both Hong Kong and Macau in March to drum up investment support among the Chinese business community here.
"He [Vasco] promised as soon as possible he would lead a business delegation to East Timor," Horta said. "If we manage to arrive at a point where our armed groups lay down their weapons I believe in the next three to six months we can have many business delegations visiting the territory." Horta said the territory could be particularly attractive because as a former European colony it could export goods tariff-free to the European Union.