Sat, 29 Apr 2000

RI wants talks with Australia, E. Timor

JAKARTA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid proposed on Friday a three-nation summit between Indonesia, Australia and East Timor to mend ties and create stability in the region.

"I have proposed that on my way back from Canberra, we should meet either in Darwin, Dili or Kupang," the President told a news conference after a meeting with East Timor independence leader Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao at Bina Graha presidential office.

"It would be better if (Prime Minister) John Howard could also come, so that we can talk about strengthening the ties between the three countries, because this is important for the stability of the area," he added.

Abdurrahman was quick to add, however, that the date for his Australian visit remained undecided and preparations were still being made by foreign minister Alwi Shihab, who was also present on Friday.

Alwi said earlier this week that the President's planned trip to Canberra was postponed, due in part to espionage activity in East Timor involving an Australian soldier.

Relations between the countries have been at their lowest ebb following Canberra's criticism of the East Timor debacle last year and the country's leading role in the international force deployed to stop the violence in the former Indonesian province.

During his second one-day trip to Jakarta since East Timor opted for independence in August last year, Gusmao was accompanied by Nobel co-laureate Jose Ramos-Horta.

Gus Dur, as the President is also called, said he was "very glad" as Gusmao had "the same understanding" about the need to strengthen ties between the three countries.

He said Gusmao would discuss the proposal with Howard during the former guerrilla leader's visit to Australia from May 6 to May 7.

"I've promised Gus Dur that in one week's time I will meet Prime Minister John Howard and I will tell him of Gus Dur's proposal for a mechanism where the three countries could strengthen a peaceful, cooperative and friendly relationship in the future," Gusmao said.

Gus Dur said that sensitive subjects such as border issues and the possible prosecution of pro-Jakarta militias by the U.N were not raised during his talks with Gusmao.

"He came here to demonstrate the existing closeness between Indonesia and East Timor, so that's why he didn't touch on those subjects," the President said.

"My meeting with Xanana Gusmao was like that of brothers; we understand each other very well and there was no confrontation between us," he added.

Gusmao said he came to "state to the President once again that we support the process of democratization here."

He also said East Timor would open an office in Jakarta and named Milena Pires as East Timor's representative.

Milena previously worked in England and would be assisted by officials of the U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), he said.

Before his departure back home, Gusmao addressed a business forum at the Borobudur Hotel in Central Jakarta, where he invited Indonesian businesspeople to invest in East Timor.

"Our capital is human resources and a strong will," he said.


In a separate development, the United Nations welcomed on Friday a campaign by Indonesia to get East Timorese members of the Indonesian army in West Timor to resettle in other parts of the country or resign from the military.

Resettlement forms have been distributed by the government in camps in West Timor for an estimated 2,000 East Timorese military men, said Ron Redmond, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees as quoted as saying by AFP from Geneva.

They are being asked if they want to leave the West Timor camps and join the government's program for resettlement, he said. If they choose to stay in West Timor, they must resign from the army.

"This is very welcome news for UNHCR. It comes at a time when the number of returnees from West Timor to East Timor has dropped sharply in recent weeks," Redmond said.

"UNHCR has been urging the Indonesian government to separate East Timorese military people and former militia members in the camps to eliminate the intimidation and to accelerate the return process to East Timor," he added.

"We believe that about 50,000 of the remaining 100,000 refugees remaining in West Timor would return to East Timor if they were free of intimidation," he said.

Redmond said although security and access to the camps had improved, pro-Indonesian elements still had a "pretty tight control" and opposed repatriation through misinformation and intimidation.

Small groups of East Timorese army members have already been demobilized and returned to East Timor, UNHCR said.

The distribution of the forms has started at Tuapukan and Noelbaki camps, which are the largest of the West Timor camps hosting the remaining refugees. (byg)