My boyhood friends used to call me "o americano," the American. As a child in the Portuguese colony of East Timor, I greatly admired Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, and the moral foundations of United States government institutions.
My experiences later in life shattered these impressions as the US-backed Indonesian military killed tens of thousands of my people, including members of my family. A bomb dropped by an OV-10 Bronco aircraft during the Carter administration killed my sister, Mariazinha. Indonesian soldiers later murdered two of my brothers. And in 1992 my eldest brother, Antonio, died under suspicious circumstances in an Indonesian hospital in Dili, East Timor's capital. My siblings are just four of the more than 200,000 killed since 1975 by Indonesia's war against the people of East Timor.
Despite these experiences, I still have faith in American ideals. During my 21 years in exile, I have met too many outstanding individuals in the US - members of Congress, academics, human rights activists, and church people - to think otherwise. They give me hope that change is possible in US policy toward Indonesia and East Timor.
While it might have been understandable that the US allied itself with unsavory regimes during the cold war, today's world is drastically different. There is now an opportunity for the US to take an approach based on morality rather than realpolitik.
President Clinton must recognize that policies that sounded rational 10 years ago no longer apply, particularly in view of mounting problems that the Suharto regime faces. A thorough reworking of US policy toward Indonesia and East Timor is required - morally, practically, and strategically.
I recognize that the only surviving superpower has many responsibilities. But the US is in the unique position to lead in peacefully resolving the present conflict. And its historical support for Indonesia's war on East Timor gives the US a moral obligation to play such a role. In his 1992 campaign, Mr. Clinton called this US policy "unconscionable."
The Clinton administration was the first to sponsor a resolution in the UN Human Rights Commission criticizing Indonesia's record in East Timor. And the administration cut off sales of small arms and armored personnel carriers to Jakarta. East Timor's people are grateful for these steps. But more is needed.
Under the UN secretary-general's auspices, several rounds of talks have taken place between Indonesia and Portugal, legally the administering power of East Timor. The secretary-general's mandate is to find a just, comprehensive, and internationally acceptable solution to the conflict. But the talks have excluded the East Timorese people and have produced no results.
It is standard US policy in negotiations like these to support the process without prejudging the final outcome. In this case, however, US policy does prejudge by recognizing the incorporation of East Timor into Indonesia, despite acknowledging that no valid act of self-determination ever took place. Such a policy leaves the Indonesian government with little incentive to negotiate in good faith.
The US should adopt neutrality between advocates of independence and supporters of continued annexation by backing an internationally supervised referendum. The administration should also end all military aid and weapons sales to Indonesia until Jakarta complies with the UN resolutions on East Timor. The US can help end one of the post-World War II era's bloodiest conflicts by letting all concerned parties know that it unequivocally and actively supports a negotiated end to the conflict.
* Jose Ramos-Horta, 1996 Nobel Peace Prize co-laureate, is the overseas spokesman of the East Timorese resistance movement.