US congressmen seek Gusmao's release
January 14, 1999

The Irish Times

East Timor: Three Us congressmen called yesterday for the release of the East Timorese leader Mr Xanana Gusmao from an Indonesian jail.

"It is important for East Timor, it is important for humanitarian reasons, that Mr Gusmao be released," Mr Douglas Bereuter told reporters after a 45-minute prison visit. The Nebraska Republican and the two others at the meeting are part of an eight-man House of Representatives delegation in Indonesia on an orientation visit.

The Indonesian government arrested Mr Gusmao in 1992 and first sentenced him to life imprisonment, before commuting the sentence in 1994 to a 20-year jail term for armed rebellion against the state.

Several countries and the EU have called in recent months for Mr Gusmao's release, with some envisioning him as playing a "Nelson Mandela"-type role in the peace process.

The Indonesian government has however stuck to its position that he cannot be released before a solution is reached on East Timor in UN-sponsored talks.

Jakarta unilaterally annexed the former Portuguese colony of East Timor in 1976 after a military invasion the previous year. The UN and most individual states still view Lisbon as the official administrator of the territory.

The US government, in an equivocal stance, viewed the annexation as legitimate, but has said it is not against self-determination.

"We have no prescription. We have no American solution. But we are impatient to see Ambassador Marker succesfully achieve agreement among those three parties," Mr Bereuter said, referring to the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy to East Timor, Ambassador Jamsheed Marker. East Timor was of "concern to the world".

On Tuesday Australia, the only western country to recognise Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor, said it had shifted its policy to allow for a referendum, and also called for Mr Gusmao's release. Jakarta reacted with "deep regret" and said the Australian move could have a bad effect on the UN talks, which it said were making "some progress." - (AFP)