Sat, 06 Mar 1999

U.S. prefers international presence in East Timor

JAKARTA (JP): United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Friday her government preferred an international presence and urged disarmament of civilians in order to ensure peace in East Timor.

Albright warned of the dangers of an abrupt transition in the province, which "could result in violence comparable to that which followed Portugal's withdrawal in 1975".

"We favor confidence-building measures, such as a reduction in the number of troops, and an international presence to reduce the prospects for future violence," she said, without elaborating.

An official in her entourage was quoted by Reuters as saying that the presence could be "regional ... a United Nations presence or a mixture."

Albright was addressing a gathering of more than 100 prominent figures, including chairwoman of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) Megawati Soekarnoputri.

Albright said the U.S. fully supports the formation of a broad-based "Peace and Stability Council" in East Timor. Jailed East Timorese leader Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao has made a similar proposal.

The goal of such transitional arrangements "must not be simply to slice East Timor apart or cast it adrift; but rather to ensure its cohesion and viability," she said.

"We see an urgent need to stabilize the situation through the disarmament of all paramilitary forces, as both Xanana Gusmao and General Wiranto have urged," she said.

In the morning she had met President B.J. Habibie, and told him that President Bill Clinton was very happy with his offer of either wide-ranging autonomy or independence for East Timor.

Clinton's message, she said after the two-hour meeting, included the importance of ensuring that no violence was involved during the process of a settlement in East Timor.

After meeting Habibie, she met Xanana at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Armed Forces Commander (ABRI) Gen. Wiranto.

Xanana's lawyer, Hendardi, quoted him as appealing for Washington's support in reducing the tension in the province by deployment of the United Nations police force to disarm the pro- independence and pro-integration factions.

"Washington will support every effort toward a peaceful solution to the East Timor problem," Albright was quoted as saying by Hendardi.

Separately Ana Gomez, head of Portugal's Interest Section in Indonesia, said she was convinced that the Armed Forces would be able to maintain security and control the militias in East Timor.

Further, while officials have dismissed demands for a referendum for the East Timorese to determine their future, Albright told the gathering, "We believe it is essential that a credible means is identified for determining the will of East Timor's people, because a settlement that does not reflect that cannot last and won't succeed."

Her meeting with Xanana was originally scheduled at his special detention house in Central Jakarta, but it was moved to Alatas' office for security reasons.

"I decided 30 minutes before the meeting to move it from Salemba to the foreign affairs ministry for security reasons," Minister of Justice Muladi, who was also present during the meeting, said.

Hendardi told The Jakarta Post, "Xanana said the military's intelligence task force (SGI) is still playing a role by arming pro-integration militia groups and provoking trouble." (byg/prb)