Subject: East Timor journalists vow to promote democracy

East Timor journalists vow to promote democracy

DILI, East Timor, Dec 22 (AFP) - Young East Timorese journalists vowed to promote democracy and fight censorship as they formed the Timor Lorosae Journalists Association (TLJA) on Wednesday.

"We realise that the press in Timor Lorosae must place the highest priority on truth and justice and at the same time fight any attempts at censorship," they said in a declaration.

About 45 men and women lined up to sign the document at the end of a five-day journalists' training seminar.

"There cannot be a democratic country, democratic society without freedom of the press," Jose Ramos-Horta, vice-president of the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT), said at the ceremony held in a local hotel.

Most of the association members have recently returned to East Timor from Indonesia where they were studying and worked on publications, said Virgilio da Silva, of Ispela, a media research and discussion group formed just days ago in East Timor.

Ispela co-sponsored the training seminar along with the Timor Aid aid group and the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has committed to six months of further training, da Silva said.

He said the young journalists plan to train others and start a bi-weekly newspaper in the new year. Some members of the TLJA formerly worked on Suara Timor Timur, the daily newspaper under Indonesian rule.

They voted Otelio Ote, a former Suara Timor Timur journalist, as co-ordinator of the TLJA. Ote is also a correspondent for the Jakarta newspaper, Media Indonesia, and for the RCTI television network.

The journalists stood as Ote read the TLJA declaration in the Indonesian language and then da Silva read it in English.

They pledged to "take into account nation-building efforts aimed at reconciliation and unity" and agreed to promote democratic principles.

"The press in Timor Lorosae will respect all democratic laws in the new country of Timor Lorosae, but WILL NOT bow to what is deemed injustice and repressive," the declaration says.

"It must be an independent media," da Silva told AFP.

He said the press will play a key role in educating people to know their rights and their duties so they can contribute to democratic society. He said East Timor cannot become like other countries which fought for freedom only to be burdened by a new authoritarian regime.

"The role of the media in Timor Lorosae will be very important because the people have suffered for 24 years under repression," da Silva said.

Formerly a mechanical engineering student in Indonesia, he was arrested after a demonstration in Jakarta that followed the 1991 massacre by Indonesian troops at Santa Cruz Cemetery in East Timor. Da Silva said he spent 30 months in an Indonesian prison.

Ramos-Horta told the gathering he has already spoken with CNRT president Xanana Gusmao about dedicating a park in honor of the six foreign journalists murdered by Indonesian troops in East Timor in 1975 and also a Dutch correspondent and an Indonesian journalist who were murdered this year.

He said they died "in the pursuit of truth."

"It will be altogether eight journalists and that is not a small number in such a small country," Ramos-Horta said.

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