Members of parliament in East Timor have voted against a request from the president Jose Ramos Horta to travel to the United States - to attend the United Nations general assembly - and then Europe. The East Timorese parliament is required to approve foreign trips by high officials. It's thought the result from this parliamentary vote was a show of opposition to Jose Ramos Horta's stance on certain questions of human rights, including the recent release to Indonesian authorities of Martenus Bere, who is accused of abuses in 1999.
Presenter: Zulfikar Abbany
Speaker: Charlie Scheiner, East Timor Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis, La'o Hamutuk
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SCHEINER: The real issue is that a week ago, on Sunday August 30th as people here were celebrating the 10th anniversary of the referendum for independence, the president and the prime minister, but I think at the president's initiative arranged for an indicted criminal, a man who has been accused of crimes against humanity, including involvement in the massacre at Suai church which killed more than 30 people and three priests ten years ago last Saturday.
ABBANY: That's Martenus Bere, isn't it?
SCHEINER: Martenus Bere had been arrested by Timor Leste police when he came across the border from Indonesia in the beginning of August, yes, a few days after he came across the border. But because people in Suai recognised him, and they knew that he was responsible for murdering many people in Suai ten years ago. He had been indicted actually in 2003 by the serious crimes unit and there had been a warrant out for his arrest. But along with about 300 other people who were indicted for crimes against humanity and other very serious crimes. He had been protected by the Indonesian Government and was living very publicly in West Timor and when he came across the border, he was arrested and President Ramos Horta for whatever reason decided to violate Timor Leste's Constitution and rule of law and arrange to have him sprung from prison and turned over to the Indonesian ambassador here.
ABBANY: And some people have said that this has come directly through pressure from Indonesia, from Jakarta, is that correct do you think?
SCHEINER: Well, what I've heard and of course I am not privy to these kinds of diplomatic communications is that the foreign minister of Indonesia said he would not come to the party for the referendum if Bere was not released. I am not quite sure why it matters if the foreign minister comes to the party or not. But what I hear from many Timorese people, not of course from the president. Is that, why did we lose 183,000 lives? Why did we fight for 24 years to be an independent country if our president and our leaders are just going to ignore our law and our constitution and do whatever Indonesia asks?
ABBANY: This is what Ramos Horta said himself, he wants action to take place, for East Timor to become a better country. Why did so many people fight for freedom if nothing has been done about the state of the country, whether it is human rights or corruption. So is he backtracking on his own words?
SCHEINER: Well, he's the president. I mean am not sure what releasing and indicted war criminal does in terms of improving the state of peoples lives in the country. Ramos Horta claims or he says he's also a victim, because one of his sisters and two of his brothers were killed by Indonesian troops, which is true. He was not living here at the time, but of course neither was I, so I am not one to judge him for that. But I think he has a capacity for compassion may be as a Nobel Peace Prize winner that most people don't have here and people that live through 24 years of suffering and had almost every family had family killed or tortured or raped. They are not as able to forgive as the president and there is a feeling among many people, especially in Suai, where Martenus Bere was active and where I think the prime minister went today to try to explain things that there needs to be justice and accountability and not just for crimes committed during the Indonesian occupation, but crimes that still go on today and that until the law is applied to powerful people and political people and people with connections to the Indonesian military, this is not going to be a democratic peaceful stable country. The president does not agree with that and I think parliament was showing him that they are more in line with the people than they are with the president.
ABBANY: But this could be seen as just another act of the Opposition using whatever opportunity it can find to unsettle the government or do you think this perhaps could actually cross borders and harm Jose Ramos Horta's reputation internationally even?
SCHEINER: Well, I think he harmed his reputation when he interfered with the judicial system here. But in terms of the Opposition, the Opposition Party Fretilin does not have a majority of votes in parliament, so there must have been at least some members of the government's party's that joined in its vote to deny him permission to travel. But I think this is political debate and it's healthy that there is a political discussion using peaceful means and means of dialogue to try to resolve these kinds of differences. It's not the way it was done ten years ago.