Peace prize highlights forgotten Timor war

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In an announcement that will gravely embarrass the Indonesian government, and renew attention to one of the world's "forgotten" wars, the Nobel Peace Prize was yesterday awarded to the Catholic bishop of East Timor and an exiled Timorese resistance leader, for their work towards a peaceful settlement in the Indonesian occupied territory.

The $1.12m (pounds 700,000) prize will be shared by Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta, a former member of the East Timorese resistance and the territory's leading international spokesman. In a devastating citation which will infuriate Jakarta, the Norwegian Nobel Committee commended the men "for their work towards a just and peaceful solution to the conflict in East Timor".

"In 1975 Indonesia took control of East Timor and began systematically oppressing the people," the statement said. "In the years that followed, it has been estimated that one-third of the population of East Timor lost their lives due to starvation, epidemics, war and terror ... the Norwegian Nobel Committee wants to honour their sustained and self-sacrificing contributions for a small but oppressed people."

The announcement was welcomed by the Vatican and focuses international attention on the tragic plight of East Timor, a former Portuguese colony invaded by Indonesia in 1975. Its annexation the following year has been repeatedly condemned by the United Nations, and Indonesian troops have been involved in a bitter guerrilla war ever since with the dwindling East Timorese resistance.

In 1991, more than 200 East Timorese died and scores of others "disappeared" when troops fired on mourners at a cemetery in the capital, Dili. The problem remains an acute embarrassment to the government of President Suharto, which will be accentuated by the Nobel Committee's announcement.

"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," the Indonesian Foreign Office said yesterday.

"This was about to become a forgotten conflict," Francis Sejerstead, chairman of the prize committee, said in Oslo. "By awarding this prize, we hope to contribute to a diplomatic solution to the conflict."

The award will boost the profile of Bishop Belo, 48, who has become a symbol of peaceful resistance since his appointment to the mostly Catholic territory in 1983. He has repeatedly criticised the Indonesian military and called for a referendum on self-determination.

Mr Ramos-Horta, who lives in Australia, is the author of a detailed peace proposal presented in 1992 to the United Nations and European Parliament. "I am obviously happy," he said yesterday. "But I feel that the man who should have earned it along with Bishop Belo, is Xanana Gusmao, the leader of East Timor, the leader of resistance." Since 1992 Mr Gusmao has been serving a 20-year sentence in Jakarta.

t The economist William Vickrey died yesterday in the US only three days after winning the Nobel Prize for Economics. Canadian-born Mr Vickrey, 82, suffered a heart attack while driving to a conference in Boston, police in Westchester County said. News of his death plunged Columbia University, where he had worked for 60 years, into mourning, after the exhilaration over the $1.2m award on Tuesday shared with the British economist James Mirrlees.