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Indonesia says Timor leader has sentence reduced

Reuters - August 16, 1997

Jakarta – Indonesian Justice Minister Utoyo Usman said on Saturday the government had given a three-month reduction to the jail term being served by East Timorese rebel leader Jose "Xanana" Gusmao, the Antara news agency reported.

Gusmao was given a three-month reduction because of his good conduct, Usman said, adding that the rebel leader was among the 16,000 inmates whose sentences were reduced ahead of independence day on Sunday.

Gusmao, who was sentenced in 1992, would be released after 2000, Usman was quoted as telling reporters after attending President Suharto's speech to the nation on the eve of the country's 52nd anniversary of independence from the Netherlands.

The official news agency gave no further details.

Gusmao is serving a 20-year jail sentence at Jakarta's Cipinang jail for resisting Indonesian rule in East Timor, a former Portuguese colony that Indonesia invaded in 1975 and annexed the following year in a move not recognised by the United Nations.

The Kompas newspaper quoted Usman as saying on Friday that the government did not plan to release Gusmao any time soon and that his name was not among the inmates whose jail sentences would be reduced.

Rumours about Gusmao's release appeared after last month's state visit by South African President Nelson Mandela.

During the visit, Mandela secured the temporary release of Gusmao and dined with him at the government guest house.

Mandela later sent a letter to Suharto suggesting Gusmao be released to better the prospects for a settlement of the East timor problem.

But government officials have reiterated that Gusmao was in jail for criminal offences and not because of his political beliefs.