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Jose Ramos-Horta: Nobels and Nationhood

Senior Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Ramos-Horta
Jose Ramos-Horta addresses the press ahead of the Timor's formal announcement of independence  

By Craig Francis
CNN Hong Kong

(CNN) -- Perhaps more than any other, Jose Ramos-Horta is the man who has fought the longest and hardest for East Timor's right to self-rule.

For a quarter of a century, Horta has been badgering and lobbying the international community to pay attention to plight of the East Timorese.

The co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize along with Bishop Carlos Belo, Horta's accomplishments on the world stage will likely stand him in good stead in his role of East Timorese foreign minister.

Born on 26 December 1949, in Dili, the capital of East Timor to a Timorese mother and Portuguese father, Horta was educated in a Catholic mission in the village of Soibada.

After working as a radio and television journalist from 1969 to 1974, he was appointed Minister for External Affairs and Information in the first Transitional Government of the Democratic republic of East Timor.

In November 1975 Horta fled the former Portuguese colony in a failed attempt to persuade the UN Security Council to intervene. Indonesian troops invaded three days later.

Among the 200,000 people, or around half the territory's population, thought to have been killed by the military as East Timor was forcibly integrated into the Indonesian republic, were three of Horta's brothers and a sister.

It was then he undertook a life in exile on the international diplomatic circuit, bringing to the world's attention the decimation of Timorese society.

Horta initially based himself in Australia and the United States, directing his harsh criticism at the authoritarian rule of ex-president Suharto.

U.N. is 'the future'

Although his tireless quest for Timor's independence won him respect around the world, Indonesia's leaders saw him in a different light.

Upon his receipt of the Nobel award, the Indonesian government launched into a tirade against Horta and the Nobel committee.

The man hailed by the Nobel committee as "the leading international spokesman for East Timor's cause since 1975" was branded a "criminal, a traitor and an opportunist" and "of mixed blood" by the Suharto regime.

For his part, Horta has shown there is no love lost between himself and his former adversary. When the former Indonesian president was hospitalized after a stroke, a disdainful Horta remarked, "I hope he burns in hell."

From 1976 until 1989, Horta was Timor's U.N. representative and his faith in the organization that had at one time ignored the warnings he gave preceding Indonesia's invasion is still unwavering.

"The United Nation has had an enormous impact in building democracy in East Timor, in helping us build our nation. We had elections (in August 2001) for our assembly, which went without one single violent incident. That was very much part of the role that the UN played in East Timor," Horta told CNN recently.

"The United Nations as an institution, for what it stands for, for what it tries to do, with a lot of failings, still is the best hope for humanity," he said.




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