Sat, 27 Aug 1994

Native scholar proposes more autonomy for East Timor

JAKARTA (JP): A young native East Timorese scholar proposed yesterday that greater autonomy be granted the former Portuguese colony given its unique cultural and historical background.

Joao Mariano Saldanha however stressed that the autonomy could be given to East Timor without annulling its integration with Indonesia, now in its 18th year.

"Autonomy is all right, because it doesn't necessarily imply the establishment of an independent state," Saldanha told reporters yesterday. "As long as we can refer the issue within the framework of a unitary state of Indonesia, it is a good solution."

His call for more autonomy is elaborated in greater detail in his new book, Ekonomi Politik Pembangunan Timor Timur (The Economic and Political Development of East Timor), which he formally launched yesterday.

Autonomy was also the focus of the discussion that reviewed the book held immediately after its launching at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Saldanha's call came only a few days after a similar request was made by Australia's Foreign Minister Gareth Evans in Canberra.

Saldanha, a 31-year-old staunch supporter of East Timor's integration with Indonesia, said the current strategy taken by Jakarta in developing the region's economy was inappropriate and ineffective in solving East Timor's problems.


The current top-down system has created an unemployment crisis, a multidimensional dependency on the central government and other outside parties, and an unbalanced distribution of the fruits of development, he said.

Saldanha said he is confident that East Timorese are capable of managing an autonomous government.

"Now you can pick from 500 to 1,000 native-born scholars to run the government," he said.

Participants at the discussion included East Timor's Deputy Governor Brig. Gen. Haribowo, Chief of the Udayana Military Command Maj. Gen. Adang Ruchiatna, and Aristides Katoppo of the Pustaka Sinar Harapan which published the book. Aristides, who is also a respected journalist, moderated the seminar.

Haribowo, who presented a speech on behalf of East Timor Governor Abilio Jose Osorio Soares, admitted that imbalances exist between physical and political development since East Timor's integration with Indonesia in 1976. "The root of the problem in East Timor is political," he said.

In line with this, Saldanha pointed out that the East Timor dispute was far from being resolved as far as the international community is concerned despite Indonesia's insistence to the contrary.

"What we need is to bring the Indonesian and Portuguese governments, the United Nations and -- to a certain extent -- the East Timorese, to sit and talk at the same table," he said. "This might take years, but at least we should start the process."

Saldanha graduated from the School of Economics of Satya Wacana Christian University, in Salatiga, Central Java in 1989 and obtained his masters degree in international management on a Fulbright/Galbraith scholarship from the American Graduate School of International Studies (Thunderbird) in Arizona, U.S., last year.

He is one of the first recipients of a scholarship presented by the East Timor provincial government in collaboration with Satya Wacana.


Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday denied recent reports from Lisbon suggesting that Indonesia has opened talks with East Timor separatist leaders in exile such as Ramos Horta.

"The Minister of Foreign Affairs (Ali Alatas) expressed his amazement upon reading the reports because they are unreasonable and appear to be another misinformation drive by anti-Indonesia groups," said a statement from the ministry.

"The minister emphasizes that the only official course to solve the East Timor dispute on the international level is through tripartite talks between the foreign ministers of Indonesia and Portugal under the U.N. secretary-general's supervision. There are no plans to open any additional line of talks." (pwn)