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Subject: NYT Editorial: An East Timor Breakthrough
Date: Tue, 11 Aug 1998 18:20:40 +0100 (BST)

THE NEW YORK TIMES Monday, August 10, 1998

Editorial: An East Timor Breakthrough

Indonesia's President, B. J. Habibie, has apparently decided that with so many problems to deal with, he can live without the international harangue Indonesia has received for its brutal occupation of the former Portuguese colony of East Timor.

Indonesian officials met with their Portuguese counterparts last week and pledged to seek an agreement on "wide-ranging autonomy" for the region, which Indonesia annexed in 1975.

The proposal stops short of the referendum on independence that the East Timorese rightly demand.

But East Timor activists believe it is a significant step that could eventually lead to independence.

Indonesian officials said they might grant East Timor autonomy over everything but defense, foreign policy and some economic matters. They would also allow East Timor to hold free elections open to all political parties.

East Timorese activists believe this could be a face-saving alternative to a referendum that would almost certainly produce an overwhelming vote for independence.

But if East Timor elects leaders who demand independence, the activists believe, Indonesia might be prepared to let the region go. That could depend on whether Indonesia itself becomes more democratic and remains attuned to international pressure.

Thus far the talks between Indonesia and Portugal have not included any East Timorese.

Indonesia would be well advised to release from prison Jose Xanana Gusmao, the leader of East Timor's guerrilla movement, and include him in negotiations. Gusmao apparently favors the agreement, and is the only person who can convince his suspicious countrymen to give it a try.

East Timor, where Indonesia has also begun a partial troop pullout, is one of several issues on which Habibie's Government seems to be breaking with Suharto's repressive ways.

Last week Gen. Wiranto, the head of the armed forces, promised to pull some troops from Aceh, a province where the army is accused of widespread abuses while fighting a Muslim separatist group.

Indonesia also began an investigation of the military's role in the kidnapping and torture of democracy advocates. Ten officers face courts- martial and three others, including Suharto's son-in-law, will appear before a special military council.

The officers will suffer only dishonorable discharge, when real trials are needed. But any accountability is a welcome change from the imperial rule of Suharto.

TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign 111 Northwood Road, Thornton Heath, Surrey CR7 8HW, UK Phone: 0181 771-2904 Fax: 0181 653-0322 email: Campaigning to expose human rights violations in Indonesia, East Timor, West Papua and Aceh

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