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East Timor democracy leaders named Nobel Peace Prize winners

Nobel Peace prize

Indonesia angered by selection

(CNN) -- A Roman Catholic bishop and an exiled pro-democracy activist won the Nobel Peace Prize October 11 for their efforts to bring a peaceful end to the conflict in East Timor, a former Portuguese colony annexed by Indonesia in 1976.

Indonesia expressed "regret" over the decision to name Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta as recipients of the 1996 peace prize, accusing Ramos-Horta of "inciting and manipulating the people of East Timor."

But the Nobel committee praised the two democracy advocates and cited them "for their work toward a just and peaceful solution to the conflict in East Timor."

"By awarding this prize, we hope to contribute to a diplomatic solution to the conflict," Francis Sejersted, chairman of the committee, said.

East Timor, predominantly Roman Catholic, was annexed by Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country, in 1975 during a raging civil war. The former Portuguese colony is located midway between the Indonesian island of Java and the northwestern tip of Australia.

Australia is the only country in the world that recognizes Indonesia's sovereignty over East Timor.

Indonesia was critical of the Nobel committee Friday. "It comes as quite a surprise to us and it is regrettable that such a reputable institution would award a person like Mr. Ramos-Horta this award," Ghaffar Fadyl of the Indonesian Foreign Ministry said.

Ramos-Horta

But Ramos-Horta, who now lives in Australia, dismissed the criticism. (10 sec./115K AIFF or WAV sound)icon

"I'm as guilty of inciting my people as the Dalai Lama is guilty of inciting the people of Tibet," he said. "I am as guilty as Nelson Mandela of inciting the people of South Africa. If that is our guilt, our collective guilt, I accept that."

Ramos-Horta added that resistance leader Xanana Gusmao, who is serving a 20-year jail term in Indonesia, should have won the award, not him. "I would feel much happier if, instead of my name, his was selected," he said.

Belo called it "a victory for East Timorese...and all Indonesians."

Encourages 'peaceful settlement'

Indonesia was condemned by the international community when Indonesian troops killed dozens of pro-democracy East Timorese supporters in November 1991. The government claimed 50 demonstrators were killed, while human rights groups said about 200 were killed by the army.

Belo

Belo, 48, has been instrumental in prompting the government to investigate the killings, which led to the dismissal of two generals and the imprisonment of several army officers. Ramos-Horta has been a leading international spokesman for East Timor's independence since 1975.

The two men will share the award of 7.4 million Swedish kronor, or $1.1 million.

Before the prize was awarded, East Timor dissidents claimed Indonesian troops were cracking down out of fear that Belo would win the award.

Sejersted, the prize chairman, said the committee was aware of the risk that the prize could trigger a crackdown, "but we can also see the possibility of encouraging a peaceful settlement."

"This was about to become a forgotten conflict, and we wanted to contribute to maintaining momentum (towards a peaceful solution)," he added.

Despite Indonesia's anger over the selections, others praised it.

"I'm thrilled," said former South African archbishop Desmond Tutu, who won the Nobel Peace Price in 1984.

The Vatican welcomed the news with "deepest satisfaction."

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