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Last Updated: Monday, 11 February 2008, 04:51 GMT
Profile: Jose Ramos-Horta
Jose Ramos-Horta
Mr Ramos-Horta is a veteran of East Timor's independence fight
For more than 30 years, Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta has been a key figure in East Timor's political life.

He helped lead the country's campaign for independence from Indonesia, overcoming widespread international indifference to put East Timor's fate near the top of the global agenda.

When the nation finally became self-ruling, Mr Ramos-Horta served as foreign minister until unrest brought down the government of Mari Alkatiri last year.

In the uncertainty that followed, the Nobel laureate soon emerged as the figure most likely to restore stability and was appointed East Timor's second post-independence prime minister.

In May 2007 he took on the more ceremonial role of president, replacing incumbent Xanana Gusmao who wanted to run for prime minister.

Mr Gusmao became prime minister after the June 2007 elections and observers hoped this would improve stability in the impoverished nation.

But in February 2008 Mr Ramos-Horta was shot at the hands of renegade soldier Alfredo Reinado, once again triggering fears of unrest in East Timor.

Difficult journey

Mr Ramos-Horta's journey to the top has been a long and difficult one.

After fleeing the former Portuguese colony just three days before Indonesian troops invaded, he spent 24 years in exile lobbying foreign governments and the UN on the East Timorese cause.

Years of pressing the world to care about the plight of East Timor turned his life into what he once described as an "emotional rollercoaster".

Branded a criminal and a traitor by the Indonesian Government, in 1996 he was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Bishop Carlos Belo, the leader of East Timor's majority Catholic population.

President Xanana Gusmao
President Xanana Gusmao led East Timor's guerrilla movement

At the time the Nobel committee said it hoped its decision would spur efforts to solve East Timor's problems "based on the people's right to self-determination".

Forgotten conflict

The award brought international attention to Mr Ramos-Horta's efforts and to reports of widespread abuses conducted by the Indonesian authorities in their efforts to quell opposition to Jakarta's rule.

"This was about to become a forgotten conflict and we wanted to contribute to maintaining the momentum," said the then Nobel chairman, Francis Sejersted.

Before that, when East Timor was as Mr Ramos-Horta put it "an obscure footnote of the Portuguese colonial empire", his political activism caused him to be banned from the territory from 1970-71 for spreading subversive allegations against Portuguese rule.

In 1975, the hasty departure of the colonial power, led to outbreaks of fighting between rival East Timorese factions, many of them backed by Jakarta. As signs grew of an imminent Indonesian invasion, Mr Ramos-Horta fled in a last-ditch effort to persuade the UN Security Council to back his cause.

His efforts failed and three days later the Indonesian occupation force moved in. Around 200,000 people, or around half the territory's population, are thought to have died as East Timor was forcibly integrated into the Indonesian republic.

Three of Mr Ramos-Horta's own brothers and one sister were among those killed.

From his bases in Australia and the US he became a harsh critic of Indonesia's then ruler, the authoritarian President Suharto, whom he accused of being the architect of the Indonesian invasion, and lobbied governments to cut ties with his regime.

Independence vote

He upped the campaign for self-determination after Indonesia plunged into an economic crisis and the Suharto regime fell apart in May 1998.

The following year, the people of East Timor held an independence vote in which 78.5% of them chose to break from Indonesia.

The ballot was marred by horrific violence but the territory came under UN control and Xanana Gusmao, the detained leader of East Timor's armed struggle for independence, was freed.

Mari Alkatiri
Mr Ramos-Horta replaced Mari Alkatiri as East Timor's prime minister

Mr Ramos-Horta returned to his home country after the historic vote, and East Timor was declared fully independent in 2002.

Under the premiership of Mari Alkatiri and his Fretilin party, the former exile became the new government's head of diplomacy.

Four years later, however, the post-independence honeymoon was over and East Timor was gripped by unrest.

Mr Alkatiri was widely blamed for the violence, which erupted after he sacked 600 members of the 1,400-strong army.

At least 21 people died in clashes and some 150,000 others were forced from their homes.

Mr Alkatiri resigned in June 2006 and nearly three weeks later, Xanana Gusmao, now the country's president, announced that the widely popular Mr Ramos-Horta was the new prime minister.

Just a few months earlier, Mr Ramos-Horta - seen as a friend of the West - had been touted as a possible candidate to replace Kofi Annan as UN secretary general.

But in a July 2006 interview with the AFP news agency, he dismissed those rumours.

"What notice would be taken of the secretary general if I abandoned my own country in its time of need?" he asked.

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