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Friday, March 5, 1999 Published at 06:38 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Albright meets rebel leader

Arrested: Student protesters calling for President Habibie's resignation

The American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, has been meeting the jailed East Timorese leader, Xanana Gusmao, to discuss ways of ending the conflict in the disputed territory.

Mr Gusmao was brought to the Foreign Ministry in Jakarta because of concerns over security at the house where he is still serving a 20-year sentence.

[ image: Xanana - behind bars]
Xanana - behind bars
He is playing a a key role in domestic and international negotiations to settle the fate of the impoverished former Portuguese colony, which was occupied by Indonesia in 1975.

Earlier, Mrs Albright praised Indonesia's democratic reforms after meeting President BJ Habibie.

Mrs Albright said she saw "a spirit of democracy blooming" in the country as it approaches elections in June.

"The sense that I got from talking to the president is that he is obviously devoted to having a free and fair and open election," Mrs Albright said.

On her arrival in Indonesia on Thursday, Mrs Albright said Jakarta was at a pivotal time in determining whether democracy triumphs over violence.

Human rights progress

After meeting the president, she also spoke of an improvement in human rights, although she said there was still more to be done, particularly in prosecuting offenders and releasing political prisoners.

"Generally, it's been my sense that there was obviously a huge improvement in the human rights situation in Indonesia and that we consider continued work on human rights issues very important," she said.

Mrs Albright is also expected to meet opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri, who could emerge as president following the elections.

Demonstration outside

Meanwhile, outside the presidential palace in Jakarta, hundreds of Muslim students staged a peaceful demonstration against the failure of the Indonesian military to stop sectarian violence on Ambon island.

Chanting "Jihad! Jihad!" the students carried placards condemning the violence between Christians and Muslims which has killed more than 200 people since January.

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