Indonesia set to free East Timorese resistance leader: report|
January 19, 1999
SYDNEY, Jan 19 (AFP) - Indonesia is paving the way to transfer East Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmao from top-security prison to house arrest amid mounting international pressure for his release, it was reported here Tuesday.
Citing senior Indonesian government sources, The Australian newspaper reported that Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas had recently raised the option of house arrest for Gusmao during a meeting of President B.J. Habibie's cabinet.
Although "technical difficulties" including the legal provision for house arrest had to be overcome, Habibie was likely to accept house arrest if the legal requirements could be met, the sources said.
Western diplomats had also confirmed that Alatas mentioned the possibility of house arrest on several occasions in another sign of the shift in Indonesian thinking over the 25-year conflict in East Timor, the report said.
Gusmao is serving a 20-year sentence in Jakarta's Cipinang prison where he has recently been allowed to meet western politicians and diplomats.
He was captured in 1992 and sentenced to life imprisonment, later reduced to 20 years, for leading the bloody resistance war against Indonesian forces.
Independent estimates say up to 200,000 people, around a third of the pre-invasion population of East Timor, have died in fighting or as a result of ill-treatment since the former Portuguese colony was invaded in 1975 and annexed the following year.
The United Nations, which has refused to recognise Indonesia's annexation of East Timor, has supported house arrest for Gusmao because it would allow him greater freedom to talk to supporters and foreign visitors over Habibie's proposals to give the province autonomy.
Indonesia has faced strong and growing pressure from western countries including its major regional ally, Australia, to grant Gusmao amnesty and to negotiate with him a political settlement in the problem province.
Australia, the only western country to recognise Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor, recently changed its policy to one of pushing for an act of self-determination which it acknowledged could lead to full independence.
Exiled East Timorese resistance spokesman Jose Ramos Horta, now based in Sydney, welcomed the report Tuesday, but said it fell short of the demands for his freedom.
"Indonesia has no right to retain him," Ramos Horta told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio. "His trial in 93 was a farce, his arrest was carried out by the illegal army of Indondesia, the occupation army of East Timor.
"Therefore we demand his unconditional release so the news that he might be transferred to house arrest for us is irrelevant because he should be set free without any condition whatsoever.
"The Indonesians should know by now that releasing him completely, allowing him to return to East Timor, would be in the best interest of securing peace and stability in East Timor."