|Subject: Age: East Timor exile returns for
The Age Thursday 16 August 2001
East Timor exile returns for votes
By MARK DODD DILI
With an army of street kids recruited to plaster seafront coconut trees with stickers, and a UN vehicle pressed into service blaring raucous political messages, the Timorese Nationalist Party (PNT) kicked off its election campaign this week.
The small party, founded in 1999 with the support of local leaders who favored integration, campaigned for East Timor to remain Indonesia's 27th province although under a mantle of broad autonomy.
It maintains close links with the Popular Council for the Defence of the Democratic Republic of East Timor, a movement that the United Nations mission has warned could provoke trouble in the election period.
The party leader, Abilio Araujo, accused this year of links with the Indonesian military, has ended a 30-year, self-imposed exile in Portugal and returned to contest the August 30 assembly election.
A minister in the government of the short-lived 1975 Democratic Republic of East Timor, Dr Araujo was expelled from Fretilin (Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of East Timor) for his dealings with Indonesia.
East Timorese also know the Marxist-turned-businessman as a former associate of Siti Hardiyanti "Tutut" Rukmana, daughter of disgraced former president Suharto.
In an interview with the Suara Timor Lorosae (Voice of East Timor) newspaper, Dr Araujo said he now supports independence and democracy for East Timor.
He admitted close links with Indonesian military and political leaders, but said he was able to use these ties to pressure for the release of East Timorese independence activists imprisoned by Jakarta.
Dr Araujo said he had been asked by Major-General Willem da Costa, Indonesia's army commander in charge of the eastern islands, to visit West Timor and encourage thousands of refugees to return home.
"During the Indonesian occupation, I often came to East Timor to monitor the human rights abuses and visited those who were detained and put in prison by Indonesia," he said. "I made an attempt to help them and get them out of prison."
This is queried by East Timor's main human rights group, Yayasan-HAK, which said that any access to political prisoners would have required close cooperation with Indonesian military intelligence.
Spokesman Joaquim Fonseca said: "We are not aware of any prisoner release at the time as a result of efforts by Mr Araujo or anyone else."
Dr Araujo said he applauded efforts by independence leader Jose "Xanana" Gusmao to foster reconciliation with pro-Indonesian militia leaders, but said reconciliation was also needed to heal the wounds of the bloody infighting that occurred within Fretilin's own ranks in the late 1970s.
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