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Jakarta now admits, letter was received

Reuters - August 2, 1997

Jakarta – Indonesia has finally received a letter from South African President Nelson Mandela suggesting the possible release of jailed East Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmao, the official Antara news agency reported on Saturday.

Antara quoted State Secretary Murdiono as saying he had received a report from the Indonesian embassy in Pretoria that the chief of the mission's protocol section Dadang Iskandar had received a letter from Mandela.

Mandela said on Wednesday he had sent the letter earlier in July but Indonesia had denied receiving it up until Murdiono's statement on Friday. Murdiono said he had asked the Indonesian mission in Pretoria why it had delivered the letter so late.

Murdiono said the letter contained Mandela's recommendation to President Suharto on the possible release of Gusmao, currently Indonesia's most high-profile political prisoner serving a 20- year sentence in Jakarta's Cipinang prison "for criminal offences and illegal possession of firearms."

"President Suharto will consider the content of the letter as one of the elements before making a final decision. The question of whether or not it (the decision) will be made public is another matter," Murdiono said.

"President Suharto has certainly viewed this recommendation in the context that President Mandela will help solve the East Timor issue at an international forum," Murdiono said.

"Of course, we have our own considerations. It should be remembered that Xanana and his men have taken quite a few East Timorese lives," he said.

Mandela requested to meet Gusmao and held a secret dinner meeting during the South African president's state visit to Jakarta in mid-July and has since met exiled independence spokesman Jose Ramos Horta and Portuguese President Jorge Sampio in Pretoria. Suharto accepted an invitation from Mandela to pay a state visit to South Africa, and diplomatic sources said on Saturday the timing was still being discussed.

The sources said one suggestion was for November, but it could also possibly be early next year. The sources also said that linking the state visit with East Timor "was not correct."

A small group of armed guerrillas are still fighting Indonesian rule in East Timor which was abandoned by colonial power Portugal in 1974.

At least 41 people, about half of them troops and police, have died in an upsurge in violence in the territory since general elections were held in late May.

Indonesian troops moved into the territory with tacit Western approval in December 1975 and it was incorporated as Indonesia's 27th province the following July in a move not recognised by the United Nations.

Human rights groups estimate up to 200,000 people could have died, mostly through famine and disease, during the fighting between supporters of the Fretilin pro-independence movement and Indonesian troops on the island north of Australia.