- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2003

Warning to Malaysia

Members of Congress demanded an explanation from the Malaysian ambassador this week, after learning that 12 refugees from Indonesia’s rebellious Aceh province were returned to face retaliation from a nation accused of widespread human rights abuses.

The eight House members, including Democratic presidential candidate Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, told Ambassador Dato Sheik Abdul Khalis Ghazzali that his government might have violated international laws protecting refugees seeking political asylum. The ambassador could not be reached for comment yesterday.

“We are equally concerned about the uncertain fate of several hundred asylum-seekers who remain in Malaysia,” they said in a letter sent Wednesday. “Return of asylum-seekers to Aceh when military operations are under way and where there are reports of widespread human rights violations would be unacceptable.

“We urge that your government’s authorities abide by international law and not forcibly return any additional Acehnese to Aceh.”

The State Department’s latest human rights report said abuses “were most apparent” in Aceh where the Indonesian government made no distinction between civilians and rebels.

“Soldiers and police murdered, tortured, raped, beat and arbitrarily detained both civilians and members of separatist movements,” the report said.

The State Department blamed the rebels for killing nearly 900 people, including Indonesian soldiers and civilians, last year.

The congressional letter also called on Malaysia to stop detaining asylum seekers.

“We would also ask that you strongly consider allowing full access to representatives of the [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] to enable them to apply for asylum if they wish to do so,” the House members said.

The letter also was signed by Republican Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey, co-chairman of the Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a congressional human rights panel; and Democrats Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Lane Evans of Illinois, Barney Frank of Massachusetts, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes-Norton, and Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island.

Honduras gets artifacts

The Honduran ambassador expressed his gratitude to the Bush administration this week when he received hundreds of valuable pre-Columbian artifacts smuggled from his country five years ago.

“We are grateful for the recovery of this invaluable part of our heritage,” Ambassador Mario M. Canahuati said.

Michael J. Garcia, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, returned 279 items dating from A.D. 600 to 950.

The United States traced the items to two men, Douglas Hall of Ohio and Tulio Monterroso-Bonilla of Honduras, who paid $11,000 for bowls, pottery and figurines and declared a value of $37 when they brought them into Miami in 1998. They later shipped the items to an Ohio shop owned by Hall. Both men pleaded guilty to smuggling and making false statements to customs agents.

Honduras has outlawed the export of treasures that predate Christopher Columbus’ voyage in 1492.

Turkey and Cyprus

Turkey must find a solution to the division of Cyprus if it expects to join the European Union, a senior U.S. diplomat says.

“Turkey should be doing more on the Cyprus issue,” Thomas Weston, the State Department’s special coordinator for Cyprus, said on a visit to Brussels this week.

“We do not see how it will be possible [for Turkey to join the European Union] unless there is a solution to the Cyprus problem.”

The Greek-Cypriot side of the island, which is the internationally recognized government, is expected to become an EU member next year. Turkey has about 30,000 troops supporting the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a government recognized only by Turkey.

Mr. Weston, after meetings with EU officials, said the United States still supports a reunification plan proposed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The Turkish side rejected the plan but later opened its border to Greek-Cypriot visitors.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected].

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