Ramos-Horta speaks to Lateline

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Broadcast: 08/07/2010

Reporter: Tony Jones

East Timor's president Jose Ramos-Horta has been tasked by his prime minister with leading negotiations with Australia.


TONY JONES, PRESENTER: Well now back to our top story, the proposal for a regional processing centre for Asylum seekers in East Timor.

Earlier today I was joined by the man tasked by his country's prime minister to lead the negotiations with the Australian Government, the president of East Timor, Jose Ramos-Horta.

President Jose Ramos-Horta thanks for joining us.

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA, PRESIDENT OF EAST TIMOR: Thank you, it's a pleasure.

TONY JONES: What was decided at your meeting today with prime minister Gusmao where you discussed the Australian Government proposal to set up a regional asylum seeker processing centre in East Timor?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Well, as I anticipated prime minister Xanana Gusmao share with me the same humanitarian convictions. He has delegated on me, he asked me manage this whole idea, this process Australia.

Of course we agree, in principle, and I emphasise the word 'in principle.' We are sympathetic to the plight of all refugees, of boat people, asylum seekers and, therefore purely on humanitarian grounds we are prepared to listen to the details of the proposal on the part of Australia about what would be exactly this processing centre will be, how long it will be on our soil, how many people we would have to accommodate in this centre, who would shoulder the burden of the financial cost of it, all of that.

We have to look at this in a formal tête-a-tête between our competent officials and Australian side, before we can make a final decision, whether for us, is a go ahead or not.

TONY JONES: Do you know how long that process might take reasonably?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Well we have not even received a letter or a meeting with Australian Ambassador or anyone from Canberra to put forward to us the details of this proposal. We are ready to meet with Australian side anytime to discuss it, but let me say from the outset that:

a) we don't have the infrastructures, so we are talking about, if we agree to go ahead with it, we are talking about a whole new site, a whole new building or buildings with power supply, with water, with sanitation, medical facilities, recreation facilities, all of that. So this will take many, many, month for the design of the concept, for the equipment to be brought in to build up, we have to involve the United Nations to manage it because in our view it will be a processing centre to be agreed also with the United Nations and to be managed by the United Nations. Not by the Australian side or by the Timorese side.

TONY JONES: Prime minister Gusmao is reported as saying that Prime Minister Gillard should not contact him directly until there is a fully formed plan. Do I understand what you're saying is that you are going to conduct the negotiations directly in the initial phase?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Well I wouldn't say negotiations as such, the prime minister trust my best judgement, my experience, wisdom. We share the same strong convictions about wanting to help, helping the people in need, it is not a favour to Australia, to New Zealand or to Indonesia, the country that mostly affected by the boat people and asylum seekers, it is to help people in need.

So he trust me to handle this, of course I'm doing it in consultation with the prime minister and other relevant Government agencies like our foreign ministry, our ministry of social solidarity, that in the end will have something to do with this because they are the ones who deal with humanitarian and social issues in this country.

TONY JONES: Last night Prime Minister Gillard told us she wouldn't rule out the possibility of shifting the thousands of asylum seekers, most of whom, or many of whom are already classified as refugees, from Indonesia where they are stuck in a kind of limbo where the only way out for them is to go to people smugglers to East Timor. Would you be prepared to accept those refugees from Indonesia?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Well, if there are displaced persons, refugees in Indonesia who are bona fide refugees, who have no criminal record, who are eligible on legal and humanitarian grounds to be transferred to countries like Australia, New Zealand or elsewhere, then that's where they should go and not moving from one facility to another because Timor Leste would be a temporary facility.

So if there are people in Indonesia who are already, have been already been interviewed, who have been cleared, who have no criminal record, who are people in desperate need of settling elsewhere on a permanent basis then I don't understand the points of moving them from Indonesia to Timor Leste.

We are talking about, possibly, new arrivals, destitute people, people who flee violence, who flee Afghanistan, Iraq or whatever, or Sri Lanka, who are in high seas, who are in danger of drowning. Well that is what I am talking about and not to be recipient of IDPs of displaced persons, refugees who are already safe in another country.

TONY JONES: Will the East Timor Government seek to link its support for this idea in other issues in your national interest? For example, the push to get Woodside Petroleum to build an on shore processing facility on the island rather than offshore?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: No, this is out of the question. Neither I nor the prime minister or anyone in this country would debase ourselves by linking something that is purely humanitarian, out of our deepest convictions as human beings, with something like a pipeline or any other thing.

No we would not bargain with Australia, We will not bargain with anyone. We will help the refugees, we will help the desperate people only if you give us this and that no, that is not in my culture, not in my convictions. No, that is out of the question, we are dealing exclusively on the marriage of a situation that is humanitarian and is extremely critical.

TONY JONES: OK one final question the general secretary of Mr Gusamao's party says East Timor is not in a position to accept boat people. The deputy prime minister, Gutierrez, says this is not a good idea. Will this be a divisive issue in East Timor do you believe?

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: Not at all. Not at all. Our people have a great heart. Some of the leaders were caught by surprise, obviously, so they react on a practical level but when you ask deep down each of them 'how we can assist in regional effort people who flee violence?' Well each and every one of us will think of our own background, how only a few years ago Australia hosted us when we fled violence.

How Portugal and other countries, you know, gave us asylum, gave us shelter, gave us food, gave us jobs. Today we are in a slightly better situation and we should open our doors to those who flee persecution or flee extreme poverty. So our people and my compatriots, my leaders, once I explain to them, I haven't had a chance to explain to them, I have done to the prime minister.

And as anticipated he reacted immediately positively. Of course now we await the details of how, what this means for Timor Leste in terms of burden for us, in terms of our responsibilities, et cetera, et cetera.

TONY JONES: President Jose Ramos-Horta, we have run out of time. We thank you very much for taking the time this afternoon to talk to us on Lateline.

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA: A pleasure Tony. Thank you.

source: abc.net.au

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