Tue, 09 Mar 1999

East Timor autonomy draft reviewed

JAKARTA (JP): The government will review its draft on wide- ranging autonomy for East Timor, casting doubts over the possibility of United Nations-sponsored talks between Indonesia and Portugal later this week making any progress toward an agreement.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Alatas said on Monday that the decision to modify the proposal came during a Cabinet meeting on security and political affairs presided over by President B.J. Habibie at Bina Graha presidential office.

"Bapak President and several Cabinet ministers suggested the need to follow up the discussions on the draft and perhaps make certain modifications," Alatas said.

However, Alatas refused to unveil details of the modifications, saying that the concept of broad autonomy was complicated and sophisticated.

Later in the day, Alatas left for New York to resume talks on the former Portuguese colony with his Portuguese counterpart Jaime Gama and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The talks are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.

Alatas said he would discuss the modifications with Annan. Indonesia was expected to present its final draft of the autonomy proposal during the talks.

During the Cabinet meeting on Monday, Habibie formed a team to review the draft led by Coordinating Minister for Political Affairs and Security Feisal Tanjung. The team also includes Minister of Home Affairs Syarwan Hamid, Minister of Justice Muladi, Minister of Security and Defense Gen. Wiranto, Minister/State Secretary Akbar Tandjung and Alatas.

Alatas said no deadline had been set for the team to finish their review, but said the draft would be ready before April, when Portugal is expected to declare whether they approve of the option of wide-ranging autonomy for East Timor.

"We hope to finish our joint effort to formulate our first option (of broad autonomy) in time," Alatas said.

Senior officials from Indonesia and Portugal have met several times since October last year to negotiate the autonomy option.

The Indonesian government has repeatedly refused a referendum to settle the East Timor case, and has stated that it will grant the province independence if wide-ranging autonomy is rejected.


Separately in New York, AFP sources said on Sunday that neither the UN or Portugal would endorse Indonesia's autonomy offer, but would seek compromise proposals when talks resume.

The sources said that the delegations hope to finalize details of a wide-ranging autonomy plan that would be put to the East Timorese in an indirect vote.

The East Timorese would then elect an assembly for the specific purpose of deciding whether to accept the Indonesian plan or choose independence, the sources said.

The latest proposal aims to deal with Portugal's insistence on a democratic consultation of the East Timorese, and with Indonesia's rejection of a referendum on the territory's future.

Jailed East Timorese leader Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao, who favors a referendum on the territory's future, told U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on Friday that the election of an assembly could be a workable alternative.

Gusmao, who is serving a 20-year jail term for armed rebellion but is now under house arrest, is a key figure in the search for a political settlement.

If an agreement is reached on a consultative mechanism during the talks in New York, the vote could be held before Indonesia's June 7 general election, the sources said.

In Canberra, Nobel Peace laureate Jose Ramos-Horta said there would be no peace in East Timor while Indonesia's military remained in the troubled territory.

Ramos-Horta said that as long as groups favoring integration with Indonesia were being supported by elements of the Indonesian military, there would be little accommodation with pro- independence groups.

"I'm not terribly hopeful that, as long as the Indonesian Army and the Army intelligence do not give up, it is possible for us to find common ground with pro-integration groups," Ramos-Horta told Australian Broadcasting Corporation television on Monday.

"When we talk about the pro-integration elements, although they are a very small fringe group with no social or political base in the country, the real element behind them is Indonesian Army intelligence," he said. (prb/amd)