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East Timor Nobel laureate in UN rights speech debate

Agence France Presse - March 19, 1997

Geneva – Indonesia and other countries were applying pressure Wednesday to stop East Timor nobel peace prize winner Ramos Horta addressing the UN Human Rights Commission from a podium, different sources here said.

Horta, a prominent voice for the East Timorese opposition fighting Indonesia's annexation of the island, was invited to speak on Thursday at the 53rd commission session by non-governmental organizations.

The row is over how he will address commission members.

Before winning the prize, Horta spoke to the commission within the time allotted to an NGO in the main room, and not the gallery opposite, where representatives of the 53 member states give their speaches.

The NGOs and Western countries feel the Nobel laureate this year should be able to stand at the gallery podium, following in the footsteps of other Nobel prize winners such as Guatemala's Rigoberta Menchu.

However, on the insistence of Indonesia, the commission's Asian group, represented by the Philippines, is pushing for Horta not to be granted the privilege.

Some African countries support the initiative, apparently to show solidarity with their Moslem counterparts.

Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 and annexed it the next year, following the pullout by its colonial master Portugal. An East Timorese movement has fought for independence from Jakarta ever since.

Talks are being held among the commission's five-group body, presided over by Czech ambassador Miroslav Somol, to find a solution satisfactory to all parties.