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Jailed Rebel Cheers Suharto Demise

May 24, 1998

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ The jailed rebel leader from the disputed territory of East Timor exulted Sunday in the ouster of his longtime nemesis, former President Suharto, but said he doesn’t trust the country’s new leader.

In a sign that the government is loosening its authoritarian grip after Suharto’s resignation Thursday, journalists were allowed into Jakarta’s Cipinang jail, where Jose Alexandre Gusmao and other opponents of the former president are held.

``We have long been waiting for such a happy moment to see him off the stage,″ said Gusmao, chief of an armed separatist movement that has tried for two decades to push Indonesia out of the former Portuguese colony.

International human rights groups have cited abuses by the Indonesian military ever since it invaded East Timor in 1975. Gusmao, serving a 20-year sentence, is the most high-profile political prisoner in Indonesia.

Justice Minister Muladi said this weekend that between 10 and 15 political prisoners will be released, but Gusmao is not expected to be pardoned because the government regards him as a terrorist.

But Gusmao said President B.J. Habibie, a longtime protege of Suharto, represented the old order. Habibie replaced Suharto, who stepped down after weeks of riots and student protests fueled by Indonesia’s worst economic turmoil since the 1960s.

``I don’t trust Habibie because he is part of Suharto’s era,″ said the rebel leader, who was arrested in 1992.

Indonesia annexed East Timor in 1976. The United Nations does not recognize Indonesian authority in the region, near the country’s southeastern tip.

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