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Subject: AP: Freed political prisoners stay to support Xanana
Date: Fri, 12 Jun 1998 00:36:26 -0400
From: Charles Scheiner cscheiner@igc.org

AP, Friday, June 12, 1998

EAST TIMOR Freed political prisoners stay to support Xanana

By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA in Dili

Pressure on Indonesia to free East Timor's jailed rebel chief mounted yesterday, with the governor of the Indonesian-controlled territory saying his release was the key to a peaceful solution.

And a dozen political prisoners whose freedom was granted by the Indonesian Government refused to leave a Dili jail, saying they wanted guarantees that the guerilla leader, Xanana Gusmao, would also be released.

Governor Abilio Osorio Soares appealed for the freedom of Xanana, who was arrested in 1992 and sentenced to 20 years in prison, as well as other political prisoners from the former Portuguese colony.

"It's not only Xanana but all the political prisoners who should be released," he said in an interview in his office. "Each of them will play an important role in the solution to East Timor."

East Timor has been conflict-ridden since Indonesia forces invaded in 1975 and all but wiped out separatist guerillas. Human rights workers say tens of thousands of people died, and resentment against Indonesia still runs deep.

Xanana, the head of the rebel band known as Fretilin, is beloved by many East Timorese who see him as a symbol of their struggle despite the diminished military effectiveness of his forces.

However, the Government regards him as a violent criminal, not a political prisoner.

His case has attracted international attention, and last year South African President Nelson Mandela visited Xanana in prison during a State visit to Indonesia and urged his release. The call was not heeded by then-President Soeharto.

Mr Soares left Dili, the seaside capital of East Timor, for Jakarta yesterday and said he planned to meet Xanana in the city's Cipinang prison in the next few days to discuss the territory's troubles.

President B.J. Habibie has released some political prisoners, including East Timorese, but is reluctant to yield to demands for a referendum on independence in East Timor, offering instead a special status that might include some autonomy.

The 12 prisoners remained inside Becora jail in Dili late yesterday, negotiating with a Justice Ministry official. They were reluctant to leave without guarantees that Xanana and other political prisoners would also be released, a defence lawyer said.

"As long as Xanana and the others aren't freed, they're not coming out," said human rights lawyer Aniceto Gutierres. The prisoners are relatively minor figures who were arrested for offences such as demonstrating against Indonesian authority.

- Associated Press

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