Subject: Age: East Timor opposition angry at US troop agreement

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

Age October 08 2002

Opposition angry at US troop agreement

By Jill Jolliffe, Dili

A leader of East Timor's parliamentary opposition has described an agreement regulating conditions for US troops in the territory as "an affront to East Timorese sovereignty".

Leandro Isaac, of the Social Democratic Party, said he would demand that Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta justify his stand to parliament when he returns from an overseas trip this week.

The Status of Forces Agreement was signed last Tuesday during President Xanana Gusmao's first official visit to Washington. It established a legal framework for relations between East Timor and American soldiers based here.

Under the agreement, US soldiers are exempt from prosecution by Timorese courts.

An American embassy spokeswoman described the deal as "a standard legal agreement we have with all countries where American troops are based". She said that the "very small" US contingent in East Timor was not part of the UN peacekeeping unit, making a separate agreement necessary.

Mr Isaac said his party supported defence ties with the US, but the agreement had been signed without any foreign policy debate and without previously consulting parliament.

The Social Democratic leader said it was the second such agreement signed with the US without consultation. He said the first treaty, concerning immunity from prosecution for American soldiers under the newly established International Criminal Court, contradicts East Timor's treaty obligations.

"A week after we subscribed to the Rome Treaty for the International Criminal Court, the government granted immunity from prosecution by the court for American soldiers based here," he said. Mr Isaac said the stand undermined East Timor's opposition to immunity from prosecution for Indonesian soldiers accused of crimes in the territory in 1999. "We are arguing that they should be tried by an international court, but this reduces our credibility," he said.

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