Subject: AFP - Xanana accepts house detention
Date: Fri, 29 Jan 1999 20:25:21 -0000
From: "Paula Pinto" <>

Jailed Timorese rebel leader accepts house detention

JAKARTA, Jan 29 (AFP) - Jailed East Timorese rebel leader Xanana Gusmao on Friday accepted an Indonesian offer to move from his prison cell here to house detention and said he would start preparing for the independence of his homeland.

"I accept the offer," Xanana, 53, told reporters at Jakarta's Cipinang jail, where he is serving a 20-year jail term.

He said his immediate plan after he is moved to his new place of detention would be to "consolidate with the other existing (East Timorese) leaders, and secondly, to make the necessary preparations toward independence."

Jakarta said it would select a house in Jakarta or in nearby Bandung, designate it an extension of the jail and move Xanana there.

Officials said the move was a compromise over a request from the UN secretary general Kofi Annan Xanana be released or transferred to house arrest.

Xanana said director general for prisons, Toha Abdullah "offered to transfer me to another place which is still under the supervision of the Cipinang jail."

He said he accepted it because he was promised that in the new place "I would would have more freedom of movement and (the place) is larger (than the cell) and besides that... I also accepted because it will also help a settlement in East Timor."

Foreign governments have expressed the hope Xanana, who has a wide following in East Timor, could play a "Nelson Mandela-like" role in seeking a solution to the East Timor problem.

Justice Minister Muladi (Eds: one name) Thursday said the authorities had yet to find a suitable house in Jakarta and could only say the transfer would be made as soon as one was found.

But Abdullah said the house may also be in Bandung, a town some 200 kilometres (125 miles) southeast of here.

Abdullah said Xanana was still a prisoner and in his new jail "he will continue to remain under guard."

"For very important needs, he will be allowed to leave (the house) but he has to seek special permission," Abdullah said, adding he would remain under tight guard when leaving the house.

Xanana, captured in 1992, was sentenced to life imprisonment for plotting against the state and illegal possession of weapons but his sentence was later commuted to 20 years in jail.

Indonesia, which invaded the territory in 1975, has faced strong and growing pressure from the United Nations and Western countries to grant Xanana amnesty and to allow him to play a role for a political settlement in the troubled territory.

The United Nations has refused to recognise Indonesia's annexation of East Timor and continues to view Portugal as the official administrator there.

Indonesian and Portuguese officials are currently negotiating, under the auspices of the UN Secretary General, the proposal for broad autonomy.

The pledge to move Xanana out of the jail came on the same day as Indonesia made a surprise announcement that should East Timorese not accept autonomy, it would recommend to a new parliament to be elected in June that it grant the former Portuguese colony independence.

"In principle I am very happy about the suggestion of freedom for East Timor .... after 24 years, the government finally realized that its acts on East Timor are wrong under international law," Xanana said.

Xanana praised Indonesian President B.J. Habibie for "rapidly handling this matter" after the fall of former president Suharto who had ordered the invasion of East Timor in 1975.

"I hope that President Habibie can be even faster in handling this matter comprehensively because this is just the first step, the fight has still a long way to go," he said.

He dismissed fears of a looming civil war in East Timor, should the territory gain independence too suddenly, as "a lie, a ghost, it is impossible."

He said should East Tmor become independent, it would turn to the international community for help, rather than rely only on Indonesia or Portugal.

Portugal's role, he said, was only to help the attainment of a settlement.

Indonesia has said allowing East Timor to become independent was only a "last option" and it continued to believe its offer of wide-ranging autonomy was the best way out of the current problem.

The UN sponsored talks on the autonomy scheme, between Indonesia and Portugal are due to resume in New York Friday.

©AFP 1999

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