“The EU has always been an exceptional partner,” says José Ramos-Horta, 96 Nobel Peace Prize, in Brussels

“There are no two countries in South East Asia, I can tell you, with a stronger relationship than that of East-Timor and Indonesia,” said Dr. José Ramos-Horta, Nobel Peace prize winner and Former President of the Democratic Republic of East-Timor, at the Press Conference in Brussels on Wednesday, January 24th.

Dr. Ramos-Horta’s visit included a meeting with High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, as well as with other EU officials to continue the political dialogue with the European Union under Article 8 of the ACP-EU partnership (Cotonou) Agreement.

The Cotonou Agreement is a treaty between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, with the goals of reducing poverty, sustainable development and a closer economical integration of ACP countries with the rest of the world.

“The EU has always been an exceptional partner,” said Dr. Ramos-Horta. “In spite of the economic downturn in 2008, the EU did not reduce the cooperation and support for East Timor. Not even in the complex and challenging times of today with the influx of refugees from Africa and the Middle East. I can say that we are grateful and pleased with the way the EU has fostered the growth and development of East Timor.”

The path to prosperity and democracy wasn’t easy, however. From 1975 to 1999 East-Timor, a former Portuguese colony, was occupied by Indonesian forces. Over the course of the 24 year invasion, one third of the Timorese population died. In 1999 the UN sponsored a referendum to vote between remaining a part of Indonesia or independence. The majority of chose the latter. As the results came in, the pro-Indonesia militia carried out acts of violence and destruction across the country. It was only on September 20, 1999 that the UN established an interim government to prepare the country for its transition towards democracy. Since then, fortunately, there has been a healing process between the two nations.

José Ramos Horta
Dr. José Ramos-Horta during today’s press conference at the Press Club Brussels Europe. © Tony da Silva

“We, the Timorese, despite the suggestions by many to have a special tribunal, rejected the idea. And Indonesians appreciated that, of course,” said Dr. Ramos-Horta. “I believe the Timorese understood the complexities within a country such as Indonesia, the kind of challenges they had to undergo in the transition from dictatorship to democracy.”

Since those turbulent and critical years, the country has improved dramatically in many regards. From 19 medical doctors in 2002, there are now over 1,000 medical doctors. Four additional hospitals have been built with the support of the EU. Malaria has been nearly eradicated, and East-Timor has been declared leper-free by the World Health Organization. The life expectancy has gone up from fifty-seven years to sixty-eight.

“We have splendid relationships with European countries like Portugal and Germany, also Spain, Sweden, and Ireland. In Asia, we cooperate a lot with Australia and Japan. My three nieces live and study in Indonesia. They’re doing great. And like them there are thousands. That’s how far the two countries have come since 2002.”