[JEJU FORUM] Ramos-Horta: ‘There are no shortcuts to peace’
A founding father who led Timor-Leste, or East Timor, to its independence in 2002, Ramos-Horta says he never sought the Nobel. “I followed the path of my conscience and pursued the struggle for peace and freedom,” he says, “not the Nobel Peace Prize.”
Ramos-Horta started his career in journalism before founding Fretilin, the Revolutionary Front for the Independence of Timor-Leste, in 1974. The small island nation had been a Portuguese colony for nearly 400 years.
On Nov. 28, 1975, Fretilin declared the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, but the following month, Indonesian forces invaded the country and occupied it until 1999. Ramos-Horta spent this period in exile but continued to be an advocate for his people. In 1996, Ramos-Horta and Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in finding a peaceful solution to the conflict in Timor-Leste. In 2007, Ramos-Horta was elected the country’s second president and served two terms until 2012.
In 2008, he survived an assassination attempt by members of a renegade military group, but the near-death experience didn’t restrain his penchant for forgiveness. “I survived the assassins who surrendered, were tried and sentenced to many years in prison,” he said, “but as president, I pardoned them, and they were freed, having served only two years each.”
He has called the late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung a “friend,” and the two leaders share the experience of surviving exile and championing democracy. From 2013 to 2014, he served as the United Nations secretary general’s special representative for Guinea-Bissau to mediate a conflict following a coup d’etat in the West African country.
At the Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity this week, Ramos-Horta will deliver a special lecture on overcoming legacies of the past and promoting reconciliation and peace on the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia on Thursday at 11:50 a.m. at the ICC Jeju’s Tamna A Hall. Below is an edited excerpt from an email interview with Ramos-Horta.
Q. Are you optimistic the United States and North Korea can strike a deal to bring a permanent peace regime to the region?
A. There are no shortcuts to peace as conflicts profoundly impact individuals, families, communities and nations, leaving deep wounds in the heart and soul. We can end a war through skillfully managed negotiations or on the battlefield with one side militarily annihilated. This was the case in Nazi Germany, Italy and Japan during World War II. But even though the Japanese were defeated in World War II, and this led to Korea attaining its independence and China being liberated, we know the wounds of war are still in the hearts and souls of Chinese and Koreans.
What role do you think South Korea should play in this process of bringing reconciliation and peace to the Korean Peninsula?
The United States and North Korea may reach a comprehensive agreement on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and this would be a historic achievement. However, this in itself will not free the people of North Korea from a brutal regime, from this unelected communist dynasty of the Kims, grandfather, father and son. Can the people of the Republic of Korea [South Korea] live in peace with their conscience if they celebrate a denuclearization treaty with North Korea and forget about the extreme suffering, killings and torture of their fellow Koreans in the North?
Of course, we have to all be realistic, take one step at a time, end the nuclear threat, normalize relations with the DPRK [North Korea], engage with them commercially, economically and academically as one possible way of contributing to political transformation in North Korea.
You have called the late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung a friend, and you were involved in his nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2000. How did you become acquainted with him?
President Kim Dae-Jung was a friend of mine and Timor-Leste. In 1999, during the violence in my country, President Kim worked closely with U.S. President Bill Clinton and persuaded Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi of Japan and Jiang Zemin of China to support a UN-mandated international force to intervene in Timor-Leste.
I knew of and about Kim Dae-Jung reading about his courageous struggle for democracy in Korea and met him in 2000. South Korean peacekeepers were dispatched to Timor-Leste in 1999 and were very professional, highly disciplined.
Can you describe your path to a Nobel Peace Prize? What does this title entail, in your opinion?
I had never thought about the Nobel Peace Prize for myself. I never ever asked anyone to nominate me; it never even occurred to me the idea of receiving any award. I followed the path of my conscience and pursued the struggle for peace and freedom, not the Nobel Peace Prize. When it was awarded to me, I was completely surprised.
Do you have any advice for U.S. President Donald Trump on how to become a Nobel laureate?
Honestly, I do not think the Nobel Peace Committee would seriously consider attributing the Nobel Prize to President Donald Trump or [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un. In my view, the leader who is very genuinely committed to peace, democracy and human rights and whose personal and political history is beyond reproach is [South Korean] President Moon Jae-in. He is the one who patiently started this peace process even as the Trump administration was very hostile to it. He is the one who salvaged the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore when the two leaders decided to cancel it, and the ROK is a full democracy.
Timor-Leste and South Korea’s diplomatic relations date back to 2002, which is relatively recent. Do you have any advice on how to bolster the two countries’ ties?
The Republic of Korea has been a good friend of Timor-Leste from day one. It was among the very first countries to establish an embassy in my country and has provided generous financial and technical support. I would like to see more support for education and vocational schools, and more support for agriculture and fisheries. I would like to have many more young Timorese going to work in Korea.
When did you first visit Korea?
I first visited the ROK in the early 1990s. Almost no one knew about Timor-Leste. But since 1999, I have visited countless times and learned to admire and love the people of Korea, a very proud, determined and stubborn people.
What do you hope to achieve at this year’s Jeju Forum?
My message will once again be a message of deep respect and admiration for the Korean people, a message of peace and reconciliation, and a message of support for the legitimate demands of the Korean people for the truth behind crimes of the past.