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Britain to act on East Timor

Catholic Institute for International Relations Press Release - July 11, 1997

Jose Ramos-Horta, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and representative of the East Timorese resistance, has welcomed the Foreign Secretary's commitment to use diplomatic pressure to bring about a peaceful settlement of the conflict in East Timor and to follow through on the Government's current review of arms exports to Indonesia.

Robin Cook, Foreign Secretary, and Margaret Becker, President of the Board of Trade, met with Jose Ramos-Horta and Joao Carrascalao, President of the Timorese Democratic Union, at the Foreign Office yesterday in their first meeting since the Government took office.

The meeting was positive and both Ramos-Horta and Carrascalao welcomed the Foreign Secretary's assurances that he would actively support mediation efforts by the UN Secretary-General, in the hope that this would lead to a peaceful settlement of the conflict in East Timor. The Timorese leaders emphasised to the Foreign Secretary that proactive UK diplomacy within the European Union and the UN is as important as progress on restricting arms exports.

Ramos-Horta and Carrascalao expressed their hope that in the current review of UK arms sales policy, due consideration would be given to preventing the sale of weapons that are used for internal repression in East Timor and Indonesia. Such weapons include machine-guns, land rovers, armoured personnel carriers, military trucks, water cannons and surveillance equipment.

On the basis of statements made by Nino Konis Santana, commander of the armed front of the Timorese Resistance, Ramos-Horta noted in the meeting that British Aerospace Hawk aircraft were no longer being used by the Indonesian armed forces in East Timor, largely because of public concern in the UK over such arms sales. However, it still remains unethical tosell such weapons systems to dictatorships, since those arms could be used again for internal repression or intimidation in the future.

The meeting also covered human rights, including the need for international monitoring of the situation in East Timor. The Foreign Secretary seemed receptive to the recommendation that the UK and its EU partners should press for on-site UN human rights monitoring, and should send their officials to the territory to provide greater international international scrutiny and protection.

Afterwards, Ramos-Horta and Carrascalao met with members of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group at the House of Commons. They disccused options for follow-up work on a range of issues with UK decision-makers. Both sides agreed that action should also be taken to withdraw invitations for three Indonesian generals to attend the Royal Navy and British Army Equipment Exhibition in September, particularly given the human rights record of Generals Wiranto [Army chief of staff] and Feisal Tanjung [armed forces commander-in-chief] in East Timor.