Facebook Twitter



A Roman Catholic bishop and an exiled activist won the Nobel Peace Prize Friday for their work to end the conflict in East Timor, a former Portuguese colony annexed by Indonesia in 1976.

Indonesia expressed "regret" at the decision to honor Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta, accusing Ramos-Horta of being "clearly involved in inciting and manipulating the people of East Timor."The Nobel committee, for its part, accused Indonesia of persecuting the people of East Timor and said the prize was given in hopes it would "spur efforts to find a diplo

matic solution to the conflict in East Timor based on the people's right to self-determination."

"This was about to become a forgotten conflict, and we wanted to contribute to maintaining momentum," committee chairman Francis Sejersted told reporters.

He said the committee was aware the prize award could trigger a crackdown on East Timor activists by the Indonesian government, a fear echoed by Amnesty International, a human rights group that won the peace prize in 1977.

"We're concerned about what happens

next," Amnesty spokesman Rory Mungoven said in London. "There will be an outpouring, a celebration, on the ground. Our worry is that it will be met with repression."

The Vatican welcomed the news with "deepest satisfaction."

"It is my wish that this may contribute . . . to concrete results that respect the rights of peoples," said Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. He said the prize recognized Belo's work as a "man of the church characterized by an untiring search for dialogue always directed at peaceful solutions."

East Timor is located between the Indonesian island of Java and the northwestern tip of Australia. Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation, sent troops onto the predominantly Roman Catholic island during East Timor's civil war in 1975. It annexed East Timor the next year.

The United Nations and most countries still recognize Portugal as the territory's administrator.

Ramos-Horta, 51, briefly served as East Timor's foreign minister before Indonesia's takeover. He fled to Australia and since has traveled the world to campaign for East Timor's independence.

He recently has promoted a peace plan for East Timor that calls for five to 10 years of self-rule followed by a vote on whether to become independent.

"I hope that this award is not only a personal gain for me, that it will help the struggle of the people of East Timor," Ramos-Horta told the Australia Broadcasting Corp.from his mother's home in Sydney. "The next two or three years are going to be a turning point in our struggle."

Indonesia was censured by the international community when its troops killed dozens of pro-independence East Timorese protesters in November 1991.

Belo, 48, advocates self-determination for East Timor and was instrumental in prompting the government to investigate the killings, which led to the dismissal of two generals and the imprisonment of several army officers.

Belo was celebrating Mass in the East Timor city of Dili at the time of the announcement and said he heard the news after communion.

"There are other more people deserving of the prize," Belo said later. "The prize is actually not for me but for all the people of East Timor who have worked hard for peace in the territory. It is also for those outside the area who have been working for peace, reconciliation and openness."

In Jakarta, foreign office spokesman Ghaffar Fadyl reiterated Indonesia's stance that the residents of East Timor authorized the integration with Indonesia through their legislature in 1976.

"We are quite surprised and regret that such a reputable institution could award a person like Ramos-Horta, who had been clearly involved in inciting and manipulating the people of East Timor, to separate from the unitary republic of Indonesia," Fadyl said.

Murdiono, a close aide to President Suharto, said he was "surprised" by the decision and questioned the criteria for awarding Nobel Peace Prizes.

Indonesian armed forces spokesman, Brig. Gen. Amir Syari-fud-din, said: "I think the best thing is not to give any reaction at all."

The two winners will share the $1.12 million award.