17 March 2010

East Timor still waiting for Indonesia apology: president

(AFP) – March 16, 2010 TOKYO ­ East Timor's President Jose Ramos-Horta said Tuesday that Indonesia still needs to apologise for its brutal occupation of the half-island even if relations between the neighbours have improved.

"The only thing still missing is an apology... by those who were directing all the suffering," Ramos-Horta told reporters during a visit to Japan.

East Timor gained formal independence in 2002 after a bloody 24-year occupation by Indonesia that led to the deaths of up to 200,000 people.

A reconciliation commission established jointly by East Timor and Indonesia found in 2008 that while gross human rights abuses were committed by Indonesian forces, there should be no more trials and no further arrests.

Nobel Peace laureate Ramos-Horta, despite having lost three siblings in the conflict, has been opposed to the establishment of an international tribunal for crimes committed during the 1975-1999 occupation.

Indonesia's former president Abrurrahman Wahid apologised when he visited East Timor in 2000 but successive leaders including current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono have stopped short of an apology, instead expressing regret.

The government in Dili has been pursuing a policy of appeasement with Jakarta, its biggest trade partner and an active supporter of East Timor's membership bid for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

"We have excellent relations with Indonesia... Normalising relations with Indonesia was decisive for our own peace and stability, and integrating in the region," said Ramos-Horta.

But "it doesn't mean that we do not respect the suffering of the victims. Our state does not want to put the burden of helping the victims on anyone else, in this case Indonesia. We seek to help all the victims."

Ramos-Horta on his visit also met Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and energy sector executives. He also secured 700 million yen (7.7 million dollars) in grant aid for forest preservation and renewable energy projects.

The half-island state is one of the world's poorest countries and heavily dependent on natural gas exports. It was battered by plummeting energy prices during the global economic downturn.

Ramos-Horta is due to visit the city of Hiroshima to participate in a forum on nuclear disarmament.

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