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Czech Republic: Nobel Laureate Speaks Out Against Troops In East Timor

  • Elizabeth Weinstein

Prague, 22 September 1998 (RFE/RL) - East Timorese Nobel Peace laureate Jose Ramos-Horta said today that the Indonesian military's recent movements in the territory show "bad faith" by Indonesian President B.J. Habibie.

Ramos-Horta said Habibie has reneged on his promise for a gradual withdrawal of Indonesian troops from the territory. He claimed that 7,000 new troops have crossed the border in recent weeks.

"They have made the right noises, the right movements, but it doesn't match the reality on the ground. And the reality on the ground is that, although they've claimed to have withdrawn 1,000 troops in August, the best information we have is that they have introduced up to 7,000 in the territory between East and West Timor and the southern coast."

Ramos-Horta was speaking at a roundtable discussion on human rights at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's headquarters in Prague. His comments follow a plea yesterday by Roman Catholic Bishop Carlos Ximenes Felipe Belo for Indonesian military troops to be more open about their movements across the East Timorese border. Belo shared the 1996 Nobel peace prize with Ramos-Horta.

The Indonesian military denies reports that it has replaced the troops it withdrew from East Timor. Military authorities say the troop rotations taking place are helping fulfill the government's pledge to withdraw troops.

Former Indonesian President Suharto ordered the 1975 invasion of the former Portuguese colony and its annexation the following year. In 1991 East Timor attracted international attention when 200 people were killed by security forces following the funeral of a pro-independence protester. Leading human rights groups have estimated that 200,000 people have died as a result of the Indonesian occupation of East Timor.

Ramos-Horta also praised Western leaders for their continued support of the independence struggle in East Timor. He said he had received widespread support from European Union (EU) member countries, and encouraged all EU countries to develop policies supporting democracy in the territory.

Ramos-Horta also had high praise for U.S. President Bill Clinton, who received a standing ovation before his address at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly session in New York yesterday. Ramos-Horta said the people of East Timor also applaud Clinton's human rights stance.

"Few Western leaders are as compassionate, as caring for the rest of the world.

He has the gratitude of the people of Indonesia. We have great admiration of his leadership."

Ramos-Horta also discussed freedom of information in countries struggling against oppressive regimes. Ramos-Horta addressed RFE/RL's decision to broadcast to Iran and Iraq from Prague, telling leaders from the Czech government who attended the roundtable and RFE/RL officials that specialized broadcasting "provides an alternative source of information where free information doesn't exist."

But he warned about the importance of fairness and accuracy in reporting.

"Truth is not always on the side of the opposition. I believe you should honor a rule to listen to all sides. Even during the years of Suharto, I'd say you should listen to him too."

Jiri Pehe, the chief foreign advisor to Czech President Vaclav Havel, said Western leaders should take responsibility for spreading free information to other parts of the world.

"The Western world has let the United States do the job, but it should be up to other countries to disseminate information too, not just the United States," Pehe said.