Mon, 31 Oct 1994

Governor seeking special status for East Timor

JAKARTA (JP): Military presence in East Timor is still needed to strengthen its integration with the rest of Indonesia, ensure legal certainty and to deal with remnants of separatist rebels, a local top brass member said Saturday.

Col. Kiki Syahnakri, chief of the Wira Dharma military command overseeing security in East Timor, told visiting New Zealand members of parliament that the Armed Forces' main job in the province was to improve people's welfare and speed up development.

"Remnants of separatist rebels still try to undermine the government," Kiki told the five members of parliament led by Roger McClay.

He said the Armed Forces currently deploys seven territorial battalions and one combat battalion, which could be reduced if the situation allows.

"At the moment, there is no plan to withdraw the territorial battalions because they are still needed to help with development in poor villages," he said as quoted by Antara.

A territorial battalion comprises 643 troops and 800 combat battalion, he said.

According to Kiki, the number of Fretelin rebel members is dwindling and militarily weak and they are now forced to steal to survive.

Special status

In a related event, East Timor governor Abilio Jose Osorio Soares told the members of parliament of his proposal that Jakarta give the youngest province a special status to speed up its integration with Indonesia.

Soares, however, made it clear that the former Portuguese colony would not seek autonomy that could lead to succession.

He said he hoped special status would also help speed up the solution of the East Timor question in the international fora.

With the special status it is expected that other countries' perception about the government's special treatment of East Timor would change for the better, he said.

So far, only Yogyakarta and Aceh have the "special" status for their unique historical background culture and they receive the same treatment from the central government as other provinces.

"If the central government accepts the proposal we will ensure that the territory is an integral part of Indonesia," Soares told reporters after the meeting.

In September, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Alatas in the House of Representatives criticized those who demand greater autonomy and special status for East Timor.

Alatas argued that the territory has already enjoyed more privileges than others, such as having 13 regencies despite its small size, whose development is handled directly by Jakarta.

The matter of greater autonomy for East Timor came into the limelight when East Timor Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo issued a pastoral letter in July, in which he said that "autonomy" may help solve the various problems in the province.

Soares said as a governor he had the right to propose the special status. "The government has the right to accept or reject the proposal," he said.

He said the New Zealand members of parliament also asked him about reports of student demonstrations at the East Timor University in Dili several months ago.

They also questioned him about rumors of security forces treating demonstrators harshly in the wake of foreign journalists' visits to Dili this year.

Meanwhile influential church leader Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenese Belo told the visiting members of parliament that the issue of human rights has improved in East Timor.

"We have seen improvement in human rights here. Howevere there are still many things regarding human rights, which still need improvement," Belo told the New Zealand parliamentarians during their meeting which lasted more than one hour.(pan/yac/bas)