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Gusmao threatened with return to jail

Reuters - April 9, 1999

Angela Tresnasari, Jakarta – Indonesia on Friday threatened to put East Timor guerrilla leader Xanana Gusmao back in jail unless he retracted a call to arms within a week.

Justice Minister Muladi delivered the ultimatum four days after Gusmao, now under house arrest in Jakarta, called for an insurrection against Indonesian rule in his restive homeland.

"If he does not want to do that we will review his position, meaning we will return him to Cipinang jail or another place," Muladi told reporters after meeting President B.J. Habibie.

Asked if there was a limit to how long Gusmao would have, Muladi replied: "Yes, I think in one week from now." He said the retraction should be firm, preferably in writing.

Gusmao, captured and jailed in 1992 for leading an armed rebellion aimed at securing independence from Indonesia, was transferred only two months ago to house arrest in the hope he could help negotiate a peaceful end to the East Timor crisis.

But on Monday, with Indonesia set to allow the Timorese to vote on their future in July, Gusmao urged insurrection, citing a campaign of terror by Indonesian troops and loyalist militias.

He has since denied he was declaring war, but pro-Jakarta militias in East Timor are treating it as such and say they are consolidating forces in case of a bloody showdown with separatists.

Hostilities between pro-Jakarta forces and the popular pro-independence movement have intensified since Indonesia agreed in February to allow East Timorese to decide in a UN ballot whether they wanted to split from Indonesian rule.

Timorese human rights and community groups accused Jakarta on Friday of systematically terrorising civilians in the former Portuguese colony, which was invaded by Indonesia in 1975.

An umbrella organisation representing the disparate groups told Indonesia's rights watchdog that anti-independence militias backed by Jakarta were gearing up for war.

The Lorosae Timorese Solidarity Forum (FORTILOS) cited what it called a massacre of civilians in a church and priest's house outside East Timor's capital, Dili, on Tuesday.

"The Liquisa massacre was part of series of terror carried out by armed forces militia groups in East Timor after President B.J. Habibie offered a wide range of autonomy to East Timor," said FORTILOS chairman Ita Fatia Nadia.

East Timor's spiritual leader, Bishop Carlos Belo, said after visiting Liquisa, 30 km west of Dili, this week that 25 people had died in the attack by pro-Jakarta forces.

There are conflicting accounts of the incident, with death tolls ranging from five to 57. The government has not commented directly, though it says it will investigate.

Australia's ambassador to Indonesia, John McCarthy, told Reuters Television on Friday an Australian team had been sent to East Timor to investigate the Liquisa incident.

He stressed that the exact role or otherwise of Indonesian armed forces needed to be determined. "It is certainly a very serious incident," he said.

FORTILOS told the National Human Rights Commission the incident was part of pattern of violence. It said that in January and February alone there were 62 cases of violence by pro-Jakarta forces in East Timor in which 19 people were killed. Another seven were still missing, it said.

The FORTILOS report blamed the killings on the military, police and armed civilians. "The militias threaten to trigger war if the pro-independence group win in the ballot," Nadia said.

Some 20 pro-independence East Timorese protested in front of the commission's building after the FORTILOS meeting, demanding an end to the terror and Gusmao's release. Mostly students, they held banners reading: "We don't need terror and bullets" and "Patria ou Morte!" (Motherland or Death).

East Timor's military commander, Colonel Tono Suratman, on Friday denied troops were involved in the violence in Liquisa.