Thu, 25 Mar 1999

No decision on E. Timor peacekeeping force: UN

DILI, East Timor (JP): No decision has been made as to whether a United Nations peacekeeping force will be deployed in this province during the direct ballot to choose between autonomy and independence in July, UN officials said on Wednesday.

"We have been studying that possibility," Samuel Tamrat, one of six members of UN advance team, said upon arrival here.

Team leader Francesc Vendrell said it was still too early for UN envoys to come to such a recommendation. He said the mission of his team was to pave the way to conduct the UN-sponsored ballot.

"We are here to gather thoughts and ideas from all parties concerned (to) present during the next tripartite talks," said Vendrell, the UN director for the Asia Pacific region.

Indonesia and Portugal will resume their talks on East Timor mediated by the UN secretary-general in New York on April 13 and April 14.

The two countries agreed earlier this month on the direct ballot method to gauge the opinions of East Timorese, instead of a referendum, which Indonesia resisted.

Along with Vendrell and Tamrat, the team comprises Horacio Boneo, Terry Burke, Michael Dora and Henry Thompson.

The UN team arrived a day late after their Merpati aircraft met engine trouble on Tuesday and was forced to fly back to Denpasar in Bali.

Upon their arrival, they held private meetings with Governor Abilio Soares and chief of the Wira Dharma district military command overseeing the province Col. Tono Suratman.

During their stay, the team will talk to local leading figures, including Nobel laureate and Dili Bishop Carlos Belo and Baucau Bishop Basilio do Nascimento. They have also arranged meetings with leaders of both proindependence and prointegration groups.

Vendrell said the team met jailed East Timorese leader Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao in Jakarta before heading for the former Portuguese colony.

"Xanana positively responded to our mission here," Vendrell said, but added that the proindependence National Resistance Council for an Independent East Timor (CNRT) group leader was not the only key person in the settlement of the two-decades-long dispute.

Vendrell, Tamrat and Boneo are slated to return to Jakarta on Thursday while Burke, Dora and Thompson will stay until Sunday.

Separately, chairman of the East Timor Movement for Reconciliation and Unity, Manuel Carrascalao, said East Timorese would be prepared to accept the result of the ballot.

"Let the show go on without intervention or manipulation," Carrascalao said after meeting with the UN team.

He accused the Armed Forces of trying to retain the status quo in East Timor despite the mounting demands for independence.

In Jakarta, the Solidarity for Peace in East Timor (Solidamor) group called on the General Election Commission (KPU) to delay the elections in the province until after the people determine their fate in July. (43/33/amd)