Ramos Horta skeptical about true peace

www.nationmultimedia.com, 13 January 2009


By Pravit Rojanaphruk, The nation

"Maybe in a hundred years. Maybe in a 1,000 years, but at least not in my short life," said Ramos-Horta, who is on an official visit to Thailand and gave a special lecture at Ramkhamhaeng University after receiving an honorary doctorate in political science.

The former freedom-fighter turned head of state of the small Southeast Asian nation which attained independence in 2002, said peace is not only an absence of war but has to start at home where women and children should be free from domestic violence.

"Can you imagine the suffering [of children and women] who are terrorised at home?" asked Ramos-Horta, adding that abused children will likely grow up to become bitter adults.

The Timor-Leste president, whose country is also known as East Timor, urged people to ensure that home, school and family are free of violence. At the same time, he urged people to pay attention to violence in far away lands such as the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict - which has led to more than 800 deaths, including many children- and those in Afghanistan, Iraq, in Sudan, Congo and elsewhere.

Closer to home, he called the situation in Burma "an embarrassment to all of us in the region" but urged the West to rethink sanctions against the government as it caused impoverishment of Burmese citizens as an unintended consequence.

Ramos-Horta, who was speaking at the lecture organised by the Vienna-based International Peace Foundation - of which he is a patron amongst a number of other Nobel Laureates - said poverty and violence go hand in hand and more needed to be done by rich nations to tackle poverty to ensure world peace.

"In the 21st century, we should ask ourselves if it is moral that there are still hundreds of millions of people who don't have access to clean water, who live with less than one US dollar a day, in many cases, less than 50 cents?... It is an indictment of powerful and rich countries.

"Peace is not an abstract concept. Peace is real. Peace doesn't mean a person only lives - but lives a life with dignity, with shelter and food security," said the president of one of the poorest nations in the region, adding that America is not doing enough when compared to northern Europe and Japan.

The president urged people to pay attention to global warming in order to stop the self-destruction of our planet by human beings. He noted that the weather in Bangkok has been "surprisingly pleasant - but a bit unusual".

The Timor-Leste president, who will have an audience with His Majesty the King today, added he believes in dialogue as a way to bring about peace. Fruitful dialogue needs to be free of pre-conditions and both sides of a conflict need to bridge their differences for a common goal.

Ramos-Horta also called for the reduction of nuclear and conventional weapons, strong ties within the pan-Asian region, and forgiveness to people who have committed crime.

He said Timor-Leste is one of the few nations in world which doesn't have the death penalty. The longest imprisonment term allowed by its constitution is only 25 years.