Subject: E. Timor seeks public support against intl rights tribunal: official

Associated Press September 14, 2004

Official: East Timor leaders seek public support against international rights tribunal

East Timor's leaders will seek public support against moves to establish an international tribunal over alleged human rights violations during Indonesia's 24-year occupation, Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta said Tuesday.

Expressing sympathy for Indonesia's troubled switch from dictatorship to democracy, Ramos-Horta said a tribunal would undermine democracy and stability there because of a potential backlash against the nation's leaders, some of whom have been implicated in the East Timor abuses.

"If we are neighbors and friends of Indonesia, and we respect what they are trying to do ... we should not attempt anything that actually creates problems for them," the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize winner said.

He acknowledged opposition to his view, which he said he shared with President Xanana Gusmao.

"We are working with our parliament, the church, with (non-governmental organizations), and the various branches of the government to try to have a proper view of this," he said. "But it is beyond any doubt that we will not support any attempt at establishing an international tribunal for East Timor."

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, was devastated during a long war that followed Indonesia's 1975 invasion and killed about 200,000 East Timorese and 10,000 Indonesian troops. The country gained full independence in 2002 after a period of U.N. rule.

Human rights groups insist that Indonesian military commanders must be punished for abuses in East Timor, and have urged the United Nations to set up a war crimes tribunal.

"In my view, the greatest gift of justice for the people in East Timor is that we are free today," Ramos-Horta said. "I always have faith that sooner or later that nations address their own history."

Ramos-Horta signed agreements with Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo on economic and technical cooperation and training Timorese diplomats in Manila hours after his arrival Tuesday. He thanked the Philippines for being an "older brother" to his young nation.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was to host a dinner for him on Wednesday.

Romulo said the Philippines backs East Timor's membership in the ASEAN Regional Forum, which Ramos-Horta called "increasingly important in addressing security issues in the region." The forum includes the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the United States, China, Japan, Australia and other countries.

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