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Horta calls for the cessation of armed activity in Timor

Jose Ramos Horta - September 24, 1997

The twenty two year old conflict in East Timor can come to an end if the two main parties engaged in armed violence in the territory are inspired by the higher interest of peace and the well being of the people.

The escalation of violence in East Timor in the last few months, initiated by the Indonesian forces, has been thoroughly documented. This escalation provoked a coordinated guerrilla attack throughout the country, in late May, which resulted in further retaliation by the Indonesian military forces. The people of East Timor are now experiencing a spiral of violence in which the victims are always the weaker ones, the defenseless East Timorese population.

This situation must come to an immediate end. Indonesian troop presence in East Timor must be reduced to a minimal level equivalent to the Portuguese troop level in East Timor in 1974, which never exceeded 1000. In 1975, in the course of the decolonization process there were fewer than 500 troops in East Timor. Indonesia's remaining troops should be confined to their barracks. East Timorese resistance fighters should observe a cessation of all armed activities. A protection zone should be created in a designated region, in East Timor, where the armed resistance forces and their families can assemble under international humanitarian protection. All prisoners should be released. Torture must end.

A representative office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights should be established in East Timor. The mandate of this office can be modeled after similar experiences in other conflict situations and the confidentiality rules followed by the ICRC could be adopted here. Such an office could serve as an useful bridge of communication between the local people and the authorities; it can facilitate dialogue and mediate local conflicts. It should also provide training in international human rights and humanitarian law for the law enforcement agents, the armed forces and police, as well as members of the civil society.

East Timorese should be given the right to govern their own country. Examples of genuine political and administrative autonomy abound that attest to the openness and tolerance of all involved, such as in Azores, Madeira, Macau, the Basque country, and the Cook Islands to mention a few. The most contentious issue, which is the legal status of the territory, should be decided upon at a later stage.

It is expected that during the first week of October high officials from Portugal and Indonesia will meet again in New York under the auspices of the Secretary-Generals Personal Representative, Ambassador Jamsheed Marker.

I register with great appreciation the increased international interest and concern with regard to the conflict in East Timor. The U.S. administration has shown genuine concern and played an increasingly positive role in support of the UN Secretary-General. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook made the issue of East Timor a priority on his agenda during his recent visit to Indonesia. President Nelson Mandela is lending his moral authority to the efforts towards the peaceful resolution of this conflict.

In this context, I wish to make a most emphatic appeal to the Resistance leaders in East Timor, the freedom fighters in the mountains, the clandestine network, the youths and students, as well as to all those who are directly or indirectly involved in this noble struggle to resist any temptation to engage in armed violence. The Resistance, if it is to serve its own cause and purpose, must observe a complete cessation of all armed activity that can give rise to Indonesia's use of force.

As the world community - the UN, the U.S., the European Union and President Mandela of South Africa in particular -, are working towards bringing an end to the twenty two year occupation of East Timor, we, the East Timorese, must show our appreciation and good faith by refraining from any act that would be inconsistent with this spirit of dialogue.

Let us be inspired by the lessons of wisdom and humanity of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King or His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

[Josi Ramos-Horta, 1996 Nobel Peace Prize co-Laureate]