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Canada sends doctors to help Indonesian labor leader

Reuters - November 23, 1997

Vancouver – The Indonesian government has agreed to let Canada send doctors to assess the condition of jailed labor leader Muchtar Pakpahan, Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy said Sunday.

"Mr. Pakpahan's health is of concern to human rights activists both in Indonesia and abroad," Axworthy said. "We hope that this humanitarian mission will provide an accurate diagnosis of Mr.Pakpahan's condition."

Canada will send doctors and special diagnostic equipment.

Pakpahan has been in detention for more than a year charged with subversion, which carries a maximum penalty of death.

His trial was postponed last August after he fell ill. Doctors said he suffered from vertigo, a clot in the brain and an unidentified lung ailment.

Axworthy told reporters he had asked Indonesia last summer if Canada could provide medical help for the labor leader, after Indonesia brushed off Ottawa's request to release him.

Axworthy said that after discussions with Indonesia's attorney general earlier this week Canada was finally given the go-ahead to send medical help. Indonesia has rejected requests from the United States and European trade unions for Pakpahan to be sent overseas for treatment.

"We're pleased that we're able to have that kind of relationship with the Indonesian government," Axworthy said. "It demonstrates that through this kind of engagement, you can get constructive results."

Axworthy said that when he has asked Indonesia about releasing Pakpahan, Jakarta said the legal process was still under way.

Axworthy and his government have been harshly criticized for aggressively pursuing trade opportunities with China and Indonesia despite their records on human rights.

Anti-Chinese and Indonesian protesters have demonstrated in Vancouver as ministers and leaders from the 18-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum held their annual meetings here.

In the biggest protest so far, up to 2,500 people from a variety of groups demonstrated outside the APEC conference center Sunday, calling for the summit to put human rights higher on the agenda and for greater freedom in China, Indonesia, Tibet, Sri Lanka and Burma.

Human rights campaigners expressed outrage Friday at a warning by Jakarta's foreign minister that his government would act against Indonesian nationals who demonstrated against President Suharto during the APEC summit.