David Brough, Lisbon – South Africa would welcome the release of jailed Timorese rebel leader Xanana Gusmao before a state visit by Indonesian President Suharto in November, South Africa's ambassador to Portugal Kingsley Makubela said.
But the ambassador said South Africa's hopes for the release of Gusmao should not be seen as pressure on Indonesia or as a pre - condition for the visit by President Suharto, who was expected to discuss bilateral issues including trade.
"I hope that President Suharto will make a gesture (to free Gusmao) before he goes to South Africa," Ambassador Makubela told the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Lisbon on Tuesday night.
"The release of Gusmao and other political prisoners will show the intention of Indonesia to give good faith to talks on East Timor," he added.
Ambassador Makubela said South Africa had received no reply yet to President Nelson Mandela's letter to President Suharto in mid-July asking for Gusmao's release.
Mandela, who has offered to host peace talks between Indonesia and rebels in the former Portuguese colony of East Timor, met Gusmao during a visit to Indonesia in July and discussed his case with President Suharto.
Gusmao was jailed for 20 years in 1992 for resisting Indonesian rule. Portugal abandoned its former Asian colony in 1974.
Indonesia, which includes the western half of Timor island, invaded it the following year and annexed it in 1976 in a move never recognised by the United Nations.
Ambassador Makubela said that he expected President Mandela to use his good relations with all the parties to encourage them to talk to each other.
"If the Indonesians don't release Gusmao, we will be able to tell the world we did our best in this matter," he said.
Last month the Portuguese government called in Ambassador Makubela and asked him to explain a decision by Pretoria to ask the Portuguese ambassador in South Africa to return home.
Portuguese ambassador Vasco Valente was asked to withdraw over the leaking of a misdirected letter from Mandela to Suharto asking for Gusmao's release.
Makubela denied local media reports that Indonesia had applied pressure on the South African government to press for the withdrawal of the Portuguese ambassador.