October 14 1996
Nobel Laureate calls for East Timor vote
BY ALI KOTARUMALOS
DILI, Indonesia -- The Roman Catholic bishop who shared this year's Nobel Peace Prize condemned Indonesia's military rule over East Timor today, saying a referendum on autonomy is the best way to settle the island's 21-year-old conflict.
Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo told The Associated Press that the people of East Timor have never accepted Indonesia's 1976 annexation of the former Portuguese colony.
``Have you asked the people in villages what they really want? '' he said. ``Don't think that all Timorese people have accepted the integration, and that everything is OK.''
Thousands of people have been killed in Indonesia's attempt to crush an independence movement in East Timor. The government invaded in 1975 after Portugal pulled out during a civil war.
Indonesia has repeatedly rejected a referendum, saying the issue has been settled. Belo insists that isn't true.
``It has not been for the past 20 years, and may not be for the next 20 years,'' Belo said.
The 48-year-old bishop is the most influential figure in East Timor, the only predominantly Catholic region in the world's largest Muslim nation.
His statements, in his first interview since being named a co-recipient of the prize last Friday, were his most confrontational since being named bishop 13 years ago.
He said he hopes the prize would add pressure to find a solution, and suggested talks among East Timorese groups and the governments of Indonesia and Portugal under the auspices of the United Nations.
Belo declined to comment on the other winner, Jose Ramos-Horta, who was once a leftist guerrilla in a faction that fought Portugal.
Ramos-Horta lives in exile in Australia and travels the world seeking support for East Timor's independence.
Indonesia has alleged that he advocated murder and torture during the civil war. In an interview today, Ramos-Hora denied the accusations.
``I was away from East Timor during the civil war. I had no party in it,'' Ramos-Horta told The Associated Press.
Ramos-Horta was foreign minister during East Timor's brief independence after Portugal left, but said he had no command role in security forces.
Estimates of the number of people killed by military action, starvation or disease between 1976 and 1980 range as high as 260,000, out of a pre-invasion population of 650,000.
The bishop said he will use his share of the $1.2 million in cash that accompanies the Nobel Prize to finance seminary facilities and to set up a fund for students seeking higher education.