Sat, 27 Jul 1996

RI urges Europe not to mesh bilateral issues

JAKARTA (JP): Indonesia is calling on its European partners not to connect bilateral problems, such as the East Timor issue, with the overall cooperation between ASEAN and the European Union.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Alatas said yesterday that Portugal's insistence to drag the issue of East Timor into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' (ASEAN) dialog relations with the EU is counterproductive and hurts other countries which have nothing to do with the problem.

"For the progress of the ASEAN-EU dialog, don't mix it with issues such as East Timor which is a bilateral matter and could be discussed in other forums already available," he said.

Alatas held a 90-minute discussion with EU Vice-President Manuel Marin here yesterday.

"Don't include a problem which really has no relevance, which could destroy the relations between the two organizations," he said after the meeting.

The 15-nation EU is a dialog partner of ASEAN which comprises Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

However, relations between the two regional organizations are often strained by the inclusion of social clauses and other bilateral disputes in their dialog relations.

Diplomatic ties between Jakarta and Lisbon were broken after Indonesia integrated the former Portuguese colony of East Timor in 1976.

Portugal continues to find fault and used its membership in the EU to cajole support from other members.

"We admit that there is a problem between Portugal and us, but what we want is for it to be discussed at the proper forum," Alatas said.

"To be honest, in my opinion it shows an egoistic attitude dragging other countries who really have no connection to the issue," he said.

Alatas revealed that the previous day he also brought up the issue with Dutch Foreign Minister Hans Van Mierlo and Irish Foreign Minister Dick Spring.

"I think they displayed a general understanding and promised to take this message to the Portuguese," Alatas said.

Manuel Marin after his meeting with Alatas said the EU was now proposing a new framework for engagement with ASEAN.

He explained that three weeks ago the European Commission forwarded a document proposing a new agenda for cooperation with ASEAN.

The aim of this new agenda is that both sides should respect and acknowledge differing political perceptions but would not allow it to interfere with the overall framework of cooperation.

"In this new agenda we are going to try to organize a strong political debate, strong economic links between us, progressing in a very pragmatic approach. Putting together all the positive elements and to create the condition even for discussion of the elements that probably we have not agreed," Marin said.

Both Alatas and Marin said the new framework of cooperation could be discussed during the next ASEAN-EU dialog meeting in February in Singapore.

Alatas said the new approach must balance relations between the two organizations both in the political and economic fields.

"We have to find a way to understand each other's position rather than pretending that a problem doesn't exist." he said.

Marin also met with President Soeharto earlier yesterday morning. (mds)