Subject: CONG: Rep Kennedy "Cautiously Optimistic"
Date: Fri, 29 Jan 1999 15:50:13 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <fbp@igc.apc.org>

KENNEDY, STRONG ADVOCATE FOR FREEDOM IN EAST TIMOR, IS 'CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC'

For Immediate Release Thursday, January 29, 1999

WASHINGTON - Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy (D-RI) said today that he is "cautiously optimistic" by the admission of Indonesia's foreign minister that his government is considering granting independence to the oppressed people of the former Portuguese colony of East Timor.

"It is gratifying to learn that Indonesia may be beginning to recognize the need for East Timorese freedom," stated Kennedy. "I am cautiously optimistic that this will be the first in a series of steps for Indonesia to improve the lives of those in East Timor and to end the abuse of human rights."

Kennedy said he is not yet convinced that the Indonesian government will actually follow through with the pledge of independence made by Foreign Minister Ali Alatas.

"There have been many empty promises in the past," said Kennedy, "I am hopeful that these words and actions will this time not be empty."

Kennedy has been among the most outspoken members of Congress in condemning the human rights abuses committed against the predominantly Catholic people of East Timor by the Indonesian government, which occupied the former colony of Portugal in 1975. More than 200,000 East Timorese, nearly one-third of the population, have perished since the occupation began.

Kennedy has written letters to President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to urge the U.S. to be more pro-active in its dealings with the Indonesian government, under the new leadership of President B.J. Habibie, on behalf of the people of East Timor.

Kennedy has proposed legislative action in the past against Indonesia if it did not cease its violations in East Timor. He visited East Timor in 1996 and hosted return visits to Rhode Island by Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and José Ramos-Horta the Nobel Peace Prize winners who have been seeking independence for East Timor for many years.

"Although I'd like to believe that freedom is near, I understand why José Ramos-Horta is very skeptical," said Kennedy. Mr. Ramos-Horta just stated that acts of true savagery and inhumanity are still occurring in East Timor. I will continue to urge the Clinton Administration, and will work with my colleagues in Congress to keep the pressure on the Habibie regime."

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