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NZ minister surprised at Timorese leader's call to 'drop dead'

Agence France Presse - February 3, 1997

Wellington – Foreign Minister Don McKinnon was Monday clearly surprised but made no formal comment after Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos Horta from East Timor said New Zealand "should drop dead." On Friday after meeting McKinnon, Horta hailed New Zealand's "good, discreet record in putting pressure on Indonesia" but by Sunday he was saying he would never set foot here while the current government remained in power.

After the Friday meeting McKinnon issued a statement which in part said New Zealand endorsed United Nation's moves to "encourage reconciliation among the East Timorese factions themselves." Horta appears not to have seen McKinnon's statement until Sunday and was enraged by the reference to factions.

"The root of the problem is the military occupation, annexation and gross and systematic abuse of the Timorese people," he said.

He then claimed the New Zealand government was "utterly hypocritical" and its conciliatory line to Indonesia "abominable".

"If I keep reading this kind of communique, New Zealand should drop dead, I will not set foot here again," he added.

McKinnon's office said Monday the minister was trying to get hold of a complete transcript of what Horta had said, but from what had been reported, the minister was very surprised.

Both McKinnon and Horta had emerged from their meeting indicating it had gone well, a spokesman said.

The press statement had not been contrary to any previous government position.

East Timor was annexed by Indonesia in 1975 and East Timorese people have been fighting for independence since then. mjf/jkb