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Xanana prefers prison to deportation

SiaR - August 15 1997

Xanana Gusmao, the commander of the pro-independence forces, FALINTIL, who is currently serving a twenty-year prison sentence, has declared that he would prefer to remain in prison rather than be deported to any foreign country, including Portugal or Australia.

SiaR recently quoted Xanana as saying that he had heard about the possibility of his being released on condition that he is deported; he said that the essential issue is the position and status of East Timor, not the question of his release.

According to SiaR sources, Xanana cannot agree to his being released if this takes the form of deportation. 'He only smiled when other inhabitants at Cipinang Prison greeted him, saying that they would probably not be together in prison much longer,' said the source.

Some pro-independence East Timorese activists contacted by SiaR said that they are quite convinced that Xanana will not agree to any such condition for his release.

But news that he would be released and deported gained credence on Thursday when several embassies in Jakarta, having sought confirmation from the Foreign Ministry, received positive answers about the possibility of his release.

One European embassy told SiaR that in response to its request for confirmation of reports of Xanana's release, it was told that the Indonesian government was considering the possibility of Xanana being released soon.

As is known the question of Xanana's release emerged following the controversy surrounding a letter sent by President Mandela to President Suharto. During his visit to Indonesia, Mandela had requested to meet Xanana. The request was granted and the two men met at the State guest-house on 15 July.

The meeting was to have been kept secret but GATRA weekly 'leaked' news of it. GATRA is owned by the conglomerate of Bob Hasan which is strongly pro-government. Observers in Jakarta see the leak as a deliberate move by the government to prepare public opinion in advance of the government releasing Xanana on condition that he is deported to a third country.

Observers expect that the release will take place on 17 August, the 52nd anniversary of Indonesian's independence. Each year on that day, the Indonesian government releases a number of prisoners or grants them remission.