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Malaysian police clear East Timor activists but charge government supporters

Agence France Presse - January 31, 1997

Kuala Lumpur – Fifty Malaysian activists involved in a banned meeting on East Timor were Friday cleared of all charges but four members of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's ruling party were charged.

"The police told us this morning that all charges have been dropped and the case terminated," Tian Chua, a spokesman for the November 9 Civil Rights Group told reporters.

The group represented the 50 who were among 106 people detained on November 9 after the youth wing of Mahathir's ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) led a protest to disrupt the East Timor meeting.

The government had opposed the East Timor conference, fearing it would harm Malaysia's ties with Indonesia.

Tian said the police had followed a recommendation of the attorney-general's office.

The attorney general's office had Thursday announced that four UMNO members, including its youth wing's assistant secretary Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, would be charged in court on Friday with taking part in the illegal disruption of the conference.

It said the 50 conference participants, including leaders of several non government organisations, would be cleared of all charges.

Another activist, Fan Yew Teng, said the decision ha restored public faith in the rule of law in Malaysia.

However, the NGOs would still take legal action against those who broke up the conference to ensure "justice is done and the appalling actions of the National Front youths will not be repeated," Fan said.

UMNO is the largest political party and leader of the country's ruling 14-member National Front coalition.

The government has announced a crackdown on local NGOs to prevent what it calls exploitaion of the groups for individual interests.

Mahathir last month labelled NGOs as "leftists" and "traitors" and accused them of being an extension of foreign NGOs who want to tarnish Malaysia's reputation. jsm/en/tw