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Ramos Horta visit: Facts turn to fiction

Canberra Times - February 10, 1997

Ian McPhedran – The Indonesian Government has been severely embarrassed by a campaign of misinformation in the wake of a visit to Canberra last week by Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos Horta.

The official Indonesian news agency, Antara, reported that Mr Ramos Horta, a leading light of the East Timorese Independence movement, had spoken to an "empty Press Club" at the National Press Club on Wednesday. In fact the club was almost full. According to the East Timorese Relief Association, that kind of reporting was an example of how far the Indonesian Government was prepared to go in fabricating news about East Timor.

Association executive director Agio Pereira said the person who claimed to be an Antara reporter was merely a "stooge" of the Indonesian embassy.

"I was told by a very reliable source that all the Indonesian 'journalists' present at the National Press Club went to the Indonesian embassy afterwards to fabricate their news," Mr Pereira said.

The Indonesian Government's campaign to distort news of the Ramos Horta visit did not stop with the Antara report, and a Government item appeared on the Internet last Friday claiming that Ramos Horta was "humiliated" by the Canberra press corps.

According to the item, The Canberra Times had asked Mr Ramos Horta questions that "shook his credibility". It went on to say that The Canberra Times also asked Mr Ramos Horta why he vilified the Indonesian Government and ignored Indonesia's achievements in East Timor.

The Internet report also said this newspaper asked why Mr Ramos Horta did not see the rapid development in East Timor as a remarkable achievement. In fact, The Canberra Times asked only one question which was: "Has Indonesia done anything positive for East Timor in the past 20 years?" He said that apart from roads and bridges for the military to use, the Indonesians had done little from East Timor.

The published reports from Antara and the official statements on the Internet will severely embarrass the Indonesian embassy in Canberra, which issued a statement last Friday attacking Mr Horta for his "misleading and inaccurate" recounting of the historical facts. The statement also said that Indonesian goodwill to accept a negociated solution to East Timor "remains", and welcomed continued dialogue.