Ramos-Horta opposes human rights trials

www.news.smh.com, 16 January 2009


East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta said on Friday he opposes putting Indonesian soldiers on trial for human rights abuses carried out during the fight for independence.

East Timor gained formal independence in 2002 after a bloody 24-year occupation by neighbour Indonesia that led to the deaths of up to 200,000 people and there have been calls to try the perpetrators.

"I would oppose it for as long as I am president," said the 1996 Nobel laureate, a former leader of the independence movement that resisted Jakarta's annexation of the territory after the departure of colonial ruler Portugal.

Giving a lecture at a Manila university, Ramos-Horta said there had been calls from within East Timor as well as abroad for such trials, but that the majority of people did not favour such a move.

He said he always told compatriots who held this view to "go elect a new president".

"We became free in 1999 because the Indonesians also liberated themselves," he said, referring to the street protests that led to the downfall of the long-serving Indonesian president Suharto, under whose rule Indonesian troops seized East Timor in 1975.

Calling for such a genocide tribunal now after Dili and Jakarta made peace would be like stabbing Indonesia's leaders in the back, said Ramos-Horta, who is on a six-day visit to the Philippines.

Ramos-Horta was elected president in 2007 after also serving as prime minister and foreign minister of the tiny state.

The Timorese leader said the annexation of the former Portuguese colony by South-East Asia's largest country "was a result of Cold War mentality".

© 2009 AFP