Indonesia's Suharto snubs Nobel winner
October 15, 1996
Web posted at: 11:15 a.m. EDT (1515 GMT)
In this story:
DILI, Indonesia (CNN) -- President Suharto snubbed Nobel
Peace Prize co-winner Carlos Belo on Tuesday during a brief
visit to troubled East Timor province. The Indonesian leader twice shook hands with the Roman Catholic bishop during a public function but made no mention
of the prize announced last week.
Both Bishop Belo and fellow 1996 Nobel winner Jose
Ramos-Horta are major critics of Indonesia's military
occupation of East Timor. The region was invaded in 1975
during a civil war sparked by the hasty withdrawal of
Portuguese colonial authorities.
A year later, Indonesia annexed East Timor, a move the United
Nations has not recognized, and left behind a heavy military
presence. Up to 260,000 people died in the first five years
of Indonesian rule of East Timor.
Belo and Ramos-Horta were jointly awarded the peace
prize for their role "towards a just and peaceful solution to
the conflict" in the territory.
Christ statue erected
Suharto was in East Timor to inaugurate a giant marble statue
of Jesus as a symbol of religious tolerance in Indonesia,
which has the world's largest Muslim population. By
contrast, East Timor is 90 percent Christian.
Suharto and Belo sat side-by-side during a helicopter ride to
allow Suharto to view the 90-foot (27-meter) statue, erected
on a headland overlooking Dili bay. But Belo later told
reporters he and the president discussed neither the Nobel
award nor East Timor's political future during the 20-minute
He said Suharto asked him about the church and his work among
the youth in East Timor.
Although the Nobel committee's naming of the two East
Timorese infuriated Indonesian officials, Armed Forces
commander Gen. Feisal Tanjung offered his congratulations to
Belo at Tuesday's ceremony. He was the only member of
Suharto's government to do so.
Suharto defender: Critics 'exaggerate'
Despite the president's snub, the visit to East Timor --
Suharto's third since 1976 -- is a sign of the importance he
places on the province, says Salvador Soares, an East
Timorese member of Indonesia's parliament.
Soares disagrees with the Nobel laureates and other Suharto
critics who charge East Timor was forcefully integrated into
Indonesia. "That is very, very wrong," he says. "The
majority of East Timorese want integration, but the Western
press and foreign human rights groups exaggerate reports of
the anti-integration movement."
Soares acknowledges human rights abuses are a legitimate
concern in East Timor, "but that is not government policy,"
he insists. "Those responsible have been tried and
"People still talk about these incidents after they have been
resolved, so it's not justice they are looking for. It has
What is important, Soares says, is the development offered by
the central government. Since 1976, Indonesia has poured
hundreds of millions of dollars into East Timor to build
schools and badly needed infrastructure.
While in the province, Suharto also inaugurated five public
works projects covering highway, road and irrigation
construction worth some $39 million.
Death threats on the Internet
Ramos-Horta, who lives in self-imposed exile in Australia and
works for the civilian wing of East Timor's Fretilin
pro-independence guerrilla movement, described the
president's visit to the province as "unnecessary
provocation." He said the statue was "an affront to the East
Timorese people ... and a joke in poor taste."
The Nobel laureate said Tuesday he had received several death
threats on the Internet designed to scare him into ending his
pro-independence campaign for East Timor.
Jakarta Bureau Chief Maria Ressa and Reuters contributed to this report.
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