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WORLD

Horta: Timor suffering 'accurate'

Foreign Minister urges society to move on

story.gusmao.annanjan20ap.jpg
East Timor President Xanana Gusmao with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

COUNTRY FACT BOX

Name: Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (East Timor)

Capital: Dili

Population: 900,000 -1 million

Location: Southeast Asia, northwest of Australia in the Lesser Sunda Islands at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago

President: Xanana Gusmao

Prime Minister: Mari Alkatiri

Languages: Tetum (official), Portuguese (official), Indonesian, English

GDP: $370 million (2004 est.)

Unemployment rate: 50%


Life expectancy: 62 years


Source: CIA, World Bank

CHRONOLOGY

August 1975: Civil war breaks out in East Timor

December 1975: Indonesian troops land in East Timor and take over the former Portuguese colony.

July 1976: Indonesian parliament approves integration of East Timor into Indonesia. President Suharto declares East Timor as Indonesia's 27th province.

November 1991: Santa Cruz killings

May 1998: President Suharto resigns and hands over the presidency to B.J. Habibie.

January 1999: Habibie offers the people of East Timor a choice on their future

April 1999: Violence in East Timor worsens as militia rampage in Dili and other centers

August 30, 1999: Ballot Day

September 4, 1999: Results 78.5% vote for independence. Lawlessness descends as militia violence escalates

September 1999: First international troops arrive in East Timor

July 12, 2000: The Cabinet of the transitional Government in East Timor is established

May 2002: Full independence

YOUR E-MAIL ALERTS

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East Timor
United Nations

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- East Timor's foreign minister has backed the accuracy of an independent report claiming up to 183,000 people died as a result of Indonesian military activity during its 24-year occupation of East Timor.

Jose Ramos-Horta told CNN Monday the report was "very accurate" but he urged the East Timorese people to have the courage not to dwell on the past and move on.

The independently funded report, presented to the United Nations on Friday, claims Indonesia's military used starvation as a weapon against East Timor's civilian population, with the deaths of between 84,000 and 183,000 people attributable to this policy between 1975 and 1999.

Ramos-Horta said "the purpose of the report is not to finger-point Indonesia," but to "look at the past, understand the past so this sort of violence will not happen again."

Ramos-Horta said people responsible for war crimes should and ideally would be prosecuted. But many responsible for the atrocities on the Indonesian side were gone or had since died.

He noted that Indonesia was now a far different country from during the time of occupation.

He said the best course of action was to work with Indonesia, look at the report in an objective manner and "anything wrong in the past has been resolved."

The violence in East Timor was not one sided, Ramos-Horta said, as a civil war had broken out in 1975 in the region.

Indonesia invaded and annexed the former Portuguese colony of East Timor in December 1975, with the acquiescence of major powers and neighbors such as Australia.

But after a long and brutal occupation and a costly war against the Fretilin resistance movement, Indonesia allowed an independence vote for East Timor in August 1999.

This vote, which saw the East Timorese overwhelmingly support independence over autonomy, precipitated bloody reprisals by Indonesian-backed militia groups. About 1,500 people died in fighting before order was restored by an international force comprised mainly of Australian troops.

After a transitional period under U.N. administration, East Timor became an independent nation in May 2002. The tiny state, also known as Timor-Leste, is Asia's poorest country. About 90 percent of its 800,000 people follow the Roman Catholic faith.

Following a three-year investigation, the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation handed its report to East Timor's President Xanana Gusmao last October.

Gusmao, the former Fretilin leader, gave the report to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Friday.

"The main objective of the report is to present the situation of 24 years of war," Gusmao said when he handed over the report.

"The figures can be disputed but the essential issue is to remind not only our future generation not to commit all that happened again in East Timor, but also to remind the international community to try everything that it doesn't happen again elsewhere," Gusmao was quoted on the U.N.'s Web site as saying.

"The CAVR (the Commission for Truth and Reconciliation) is not talking only about the suffering of the people because of the invasion. The CAVR reported also human rights violations committed by ourselves to Timorese people, to our compatriots. Timorese acts committed by Timorese to Timorese," he said.

Despite the memories of violence during the Indonesian occupation period, East Timor's leadership has sought to foster a better relationship with Jakarta since independence.

But disclosures from the new report are likely to inflame tensions between East Timorese and Indonesian militia groups that are still active near the East Timor border.

The commission's report documents thousands of instances of torture and execution of East Timorese by the Indonesian military. It says thousands of women were raped during the occupation, according to media accounts of its contents.

"Rape, sexual slavery and sexual violence were tools used as part of the campaign designed to inflict a deep experience of terror, powerlessness and hopelessness upon pro-independence supporters," the commission found.

The report also alleged napalm and chemical weapons were used by Indonesian soldiers -- a claim that has since been challenged by Indonesia's defense minister.

CNN intern Samantha Broun contributed to this report

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