Ramos-Horta laments Thai strife, urges peaceful resolution

The Nation,  18 April 18 2010


Ramos-Horta laments Thai strife, urges peaceful resolution

In a goodwill gesture, East Timor's President Jose Ramos-Horta has urged all Thais to sort out their political differences in a peaceful manner to avoid further civil unrest.

"I hope the government and its opponents [the red shirts] can still sit down and spend a few days with third-party mediators [who could be Thais or outsiders] to work out the first step towards an end to violence," Ramos-Horta said last week in an interview with The Nation.
The former revolutionary, who helped bring about East Timor's independence from Indonesia, deplored the bloody April 10 clash between security forces and protesters in Bangkok, in which 24 were killed and more than 800 wounded.
"There must also be a cessation of disruptions to government functions and illegal occupation of public and private buildings, including commercial centres, as well as road blockades.

"Then, both sides should agree on a timetable for an early election, which could take place in the next six months or nine months.

"However, this might not be sufficient to resolve the differences resulting from political polarisation, so the root causes of this conflict must also be addressed.

"This may include amendments of the Constitution and other laws. [In addition], both sides must strive to build mutual respect," said Ramos-Horta, a co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize.
The red-shirt protesters would never earn any credit from using violent means to topple the government, he believes.

"They should behave in a civilised manner [in their bid to oust the government]," he said.

Ramos-Horta, East Timor's second president following its independence from Indonesia in 1999, was a founder and member of the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor.
He also served as the exiled spokesman for the East Timorese resistance movement during Indonesia's occupation of East Timor from 1975-1999.

A close friend of Thailand, Ramos-Horta, who has a Thai daughter-in-law and grandson, said Thais are not enemies of each other.

"Yes, they may be political rivals, but not enemies. All Thais are one family with a common vision of purpose.

"It's not good to call names and insult each other publicly. Both sides should engage in [more] dialogue."

As an outsider, Ramos-Horta also said he has great faith in Thai society, its intellectuals and business leaders, as well as in His Majesty the King's guidance.

With several decades of experience in independence-fighting and civil-conflict resolution, Ramos-Horta, who was shot in a 2008 assassination attempt, hailed Thailand as a past success story in Asean in terms of democracy and economic development.

"[As a result], you cannot afford to allow the current conflict to paralyse the economy and set back the country. [After decades of unrest], East Timor is now at peace and enjoyed a high economic growth rate of 12 per cent last year.

"We also have good relations with Indonesia now, even after 24 years of Indonesian occupation during which many thousands died.

"[Domestically], East Timor also has its own political crisis and violence involving the army and police. In 2008, rebel soldiers shot me, but I survived.

"Afterwards, I became even more popular among people from all walks of life, with my approval rating rising to a high of 83 per cent as people saw me as a peaceful leader who avoids confrontation and always seeks reconciliation and stands by the poor," said Ramos-Horta.