Joe Leahy in Jakarta and Reuterss in Washington – A United States congressman who wants Washington to cut aid to Indonesia because of human rights violations in East Timor is being manipulated by separatist forces in the province, the Indonesian Government suggested yesterday.
Indonesian Foreign Affairs Department spokesman Ghaffar Fadyl described as "nonsense" a proposed bill by Congressman Patrick Kennedy to cut US military and economic aid to the archipelago.
"I don't think he represents the wider interests of the US community. Hopefully, this will not materialise for the benefit of both countries."
Mr Kennedy was in East Timor in December and met Nobel Peace Prize winner Catholic Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, the provincial military commander and others.
His bill follows attempts last year by other congressmen to sanction Indonesia and a highly critical human rights report by the US State Department.
The proposed legislation has sparked concern among US companies that Mr Kennedy wants trade sanctions.
"We do not want to hurt US businesses who are investors over there," his spokesman, Larry Berman, said. "We want to get Indonesia to stop abusing human rights."
Mr Fadyl said the Government suspected the former Portuguese colony's separatist movement, Fretilin, was behind the Christmas Eve riot and other violence.
He accused Mr Kennedy of politicking to win the Portuguese vote in the US and said he should be careful he was not being manipulated by separatist interests.
The co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Fretilin's ambassador in exile, Jose Ramos-Horta, was touring the US, Mr Fadyl said.
"Those who support him might think this is the right moment to launch a campaign. But those who understand the situation will not fall prey to the campaign."
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Jose Ayala Lasso said he hoped his organisation would soon have an office in Jakarta to oversee East Timor.
Talks on setting up the office opened last year but did not lead to action. However, he said he had had a new proposal from the Government.