Subject: RT: Fretilin restructures
Date: Thu, 20 Aug 1998 09:47:02 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
E.Timor rebels restructure before expected talks 06:24 a.m. Aug 20, 1998 Eastern
By Paul Tait
SYDNEY, Aug 20 (Reuters) - East Timorese separatist leaders said on Thursday they had formed a new political structure in expectation of talks with Indonesia over the future of the disputed territory.
The Fretilin movement set up a presidential council which will operate under resistance leader Xanana Gusmao, the East Timor figurehead serving a 20-year sentence in a Jakarta prison.
``It's important because we have a new era in Indonesia and we have a window of opportunity for negotiations, so we have to reassert our political organisation,'' resistance leader Estanislau da Silva told Reuters.
Jakarta and Lisbon broke a long deadlock on August 5 by agreeing to talks on an Indonesian proposal for autonomy for the former Portuguese colony.
Indonesia has been seen under new president B.J. Habibie as eager to promote a more liberal image. Habibie has released 105 political prisoners but has resisted calls for the release of Gusmao, instead cutting his sentence by four months.
A Fretilin conference which ended in Sydney on Thursday endorsed Gusmao as the leader of the resistance at the head of a presidential council structure similar to that which was in place when Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975.
``Now they say everything is open for discussion, that the political structure of East Timor can be discussed,'' da Silva said. ``It's perhaps a good sign, even though no significant change has taken place in East Timor.''
Indonesia annexed East Timor in 1976, a move not recognised by the United Nations.
The conference named military chief General Lu-Olo as the co-ordinator of the presidential council, with Mari Alkatiri as its first deputy and Ma-Huno as second deputy.
``As a people we will stand together to fight with one soul and one thought until (our) aim is achieved,'' Lu-Olo said through an interpreter in a telephone link with the Sydney conference from the jungles of Timor.
The new body replaces a loose ``directive commission'' and gives direction to a broad number of Timorese resistance movements, da Silva said.
Central to any negotiations with Jakarta was the release of Gusmao, he said. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said last week that Gusmao must be released ``sooner rather than later'' so he could take part in debate on the future of East Timor.
Australia, the only country to recognise Indonesian rule in East Timor, also called on Thursday for Gusmao's release.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer however warned that a referendum on Timorese independence proposed by Nobel Peace laureate Jose Ramos Horta risked re-igniting civil war.
``I don't think that East Timor, just as has been the case over the years in other parts of the world, is ripe for that kind of final resolution of its political status,'' Downer said.
That argument was rejected by Gusmao in a statement dated August 12 and read at the conference.
``The same may occur if autonomy is opposed as a final solution,'' Gusmao said.
Horta was to have attended the conference but left to address a conference in South Korea. Horta has said Australia's opposition to independence for East Timor verged on racism.
Da Silva said the new Fretilin political structure was prepared to negotiate treaties in the oil-rich Timor Gap between Australia and Indonesia.
An existing treaty between Indonesia and Australia was signed in 1989 without Timorese consultation.
``We have a new Fretilin with a new political orientation and more open to foreign investment,'' da Silva said.