Sun, 05 Sep 1999

East Timorese say `no'

JAKARTA (JP): East Timorese have overwhelmingly voted against integration with Indonesia, paving the way for an end to the 24- years of violent annexation of the former Portuguese colony.

Announcing the result of Monday's historic ballot in East Timor, the United Nations said on Saturday that 344,580, or 78.5 percent of valid votes cast, rejected Indonesia's offer for an autonomy package, and 94,388, or 21.5 percent, voted in favor.

"The people of East Timor have thus rejected the proposed special autonomy and expressed their wish to begin a process of transition toward independence," UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said before a specially convened, albeit brief, session of the Security Council late Friday.

The result was simultaneously announced in Dili, capital of East Timor, by Ian Martin, the head of the UN's Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) which organized the ballot, on Saturday morning.

"After 24 years of conflict, East Timor now stands on the threshold of what we all hope will be a process of orderly and peaceful transition toward independence.

"The coming days, however, will require patience and calm from the people of East Timor. I hardly need stress how important it is for its leaders to exercise wisdom and reason," Annan said.

The UNAMET speeded up the vote counting process, and brought forward the announcement of the result from the original Sept. 7 schedule, apparently at Indonesia's request.

Amid fears that East Timor could plunge into anarchy during the long wait, Indonesia demanded that the results be announced on Saturday morning, saying that postponing it would only lead to leaks to the press and wild speculations.

By Friday night, it was already apparent that Indonesia had lost the vote, with President B.J. Habibie already making a pre- recorded speech addressing the issue to be broadcast nationwide the next morning.

State-run RRI radio reported that Annan and Habibie talked on the phone for 10 minutes on Saturday morning to discuss the next stages of the process.

Annan asked the fate of East Timor guerrilla leader Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao, who is serving time in Jakarta.

Habibie assured Annan that Xanana would be released soon under an amnesty.

Minister of Justice said Xanana would be released on Wednesday.

Monday's ballot came eight months after Habibie made the surprise announcement that Indonesia was be prepared to let East Timorese determine their own future. This was a gambit as Habibie tried to shake off the East Timor problem which had dodged Indonesia's international standing for the last 24 years.

The move led to the milestone May 5 agreement between Indonesia and Portugal at the United Nations which calls for a UN-sponsored "popular consultation" in East Timor.

As late as Monday, the Indonesian government still seemed confident it would clinch the vote, with Habibie making a passionate appeal to "East Timorese brothers and sisters" on the eve of the ballot to accept the offer for an autonomy package.

Indonesia, which under the May 5 agreement is responsible for the security arrangement in East Timor, has come under strong criticisms for its failure to promote peace and order in the run- up and after the ballot.

The Indonesian Military was singled out for its inability to control the pro-Indonesia militia, which has been blamed for much of the violence in recent months.

The People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) will have to convene to formalize the separation of East Timor from the republic. It was the MPR which "integrated" East Timor to become Indonesia's 27th province in 1976, a move that has never been recognized by the United Nations and much of the world.

The MPR is expected to endorse the separation in its meeting in November, when it will also elect a new president. Habibie had indicated a formal separation could begin as of Jan. 1, 2000.

With details of the transition of power from Indonesia to the United Nations still not worked out, including the precarious issue of security, East Timor could be in for more uncertainty and even violence.

Annan in his address called for reconciliation among the opposing camps in East Timor.

"Those who voted to accept the proposed special autonomy must not consider this outcome a loss. Nor indeed should the majority consider it a victory; for there are no winners and no losers today. Rather, this moment heralds the opportunity for all East Timorese to begin to forge together a common future in what is to become an independent East Timor.

"Today, I ask all parties to bring to an end the violence which for 24 years has caused untold suffering to East Timor. I ask them to begin in earnest a process of dialog and reconciliation through the East Timor Consultative Commission."

Dili Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo also emphasized on reconciliation in his first public reaction to the announcement, which he likened as "Vox Dei Vox Populi" (the voice of God, the voice of the people).

"Every one should forgive and embrace one another one another like brothers and sisters and accept the result of the population consultation with an open heart and wisdom," Belo, the 1996 Nobel Peace Price winner, was quoted by Antara as saying.

"Let's put those bitter and gray days behind us. Let's look to tomorrow that is filled with promises, hope and challenges," he said in Dili.

Xanana was not in the special detention house in Central Jakarta when the result was announced but he was returned later in the day to give his first public comments on the outcome.

Officials said Xanana, whom many expect to become the first president of an independent East Timor, had been sent back to the Cipinang penitentiary "for safety reason".

Trying to look calm but at times showing his elation, Xanana said Aug. 30, the day of the ballot, "will be eternally remembered as the day of National Liberation.

He called it a success of the Maubere people, the term used for ethnic East Timorese.

"The history of the past 23 years has largely demonstrated that between losing their lives and their homeland, the Maubere people opted for the first. And this sacrifice of more than 250,000 lives was not in vain," he said.

He tempered his celebration with the sad situation in his homeland. "Today could have been a happy day, a day of celebrations. But today, violence is the rule ..." he said.

Resistance leader Jose Ramos-Horta, who shared the Nobel Peace award with Bishop Belo, also saluted the courage of his fellow East Timorese in defying a "relentless campaign of terror" to vote for independence from Indonesia.

"What a lesson of courage!" Ramos-Horta told Reuters by telephone shortly after landing in New York after a flight from his home in Sydney.

Horta paid tribute to President Habibie for "courage and statesmanship" in setting up the ballot and praised Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas for "pushing through the process over the wishes of the hardliners in the army."

He said he would return to his homeland as soon as the United Nations assured him security was adequate -- "I hope in the course of this month."

Abilio Araujo, the chairman of the Timor Nationalist Party which had campaigned to accept Indonesia's autonomy proposal, called on all sides to accept the ballot result and avoid bloodshed that would only bring more suffering for the people.

"I hope all East Timorese public leaders could immediately initiate a reconciliation process for a better future," Araujo was quoted by Antara as saying in Lisbon.

The pro-Indonesia militia had warned that it would not accept the ballot result, accusing UNAMET of favoring the pro- independence camp and of rigging the vote. It had also threatened to fight for a partition of the already divided island.

On Saturday, Eurico Guterres, the commander of the pro- Indonesia Aitarak militia, said in Dili he accepted the outcome of the vote, but warned that "there is still the problem of the 21 percent." (emb/emf/prb)