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Subject: RT: Indonesia says positive signs from Lisbon on Timor
Date: Thu, 30 Jul 1998 17:19:14 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Indonesia says positive signs from Lisbon on Timor 04:35 a.m. Jul 29, 1998 Eastern

By Stephen Powell

MANILA, July 29 (Reuters) - Indonesia said on Wednesday that Portugal had made a positive initial response to Jakarta's offer of wide-ranging autonomy for East Timor.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas told a news conference in Manila that the proposals had been conveyed to Portugal through a special representative of the U.N. secretary-general.

Alatas said the first reactions from Portugal were ``positive, not negative, but...did not go into details.''

He told reporters: ``We have offered to grant East Timor a special status, a special province with wide-ranging autonomy, in the context of and as part of an overall comprehensive settlement of the issue, a final settlement of the issue that is mutually acceptable.

``And towards that end we are prepared to sit down and negotiate under the auspices of the secretary-general of the United Nations with Portugal the substantive aspects or elements for that wide-ranging autonomy. So from that, it should be clear that this is not a unilaterally granted autonomy but one that will be negotiated as part and parcel of an overall settlement.''

Alatas, who referred to the ``long history of strife in East Timor,'' said he would meet Portuguese Foreign Minister Jaime Gama in New York on August 4 and 5 to discuss a solution.

The U.N. still considers Portugal the administrative power in East Timor, a former colony of Lisbon which Indonesia invaded in 1975 and annexed the following year.

About 200,000 people were killed in the fighting and in subsequent famine and East Timor has remained a thorn in Indonesia's side to the present day.

The new Indonesian government of President B.J. Habibie, who replaced Suharto in May, offered East Timor special status, but details were initially sketchy.

Alatas, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of Association of South East Asian Nations' (ASEAN) foreign ministers, said Jakarta proposed to keep for itself responsibility for foreign policy, external defence and certain monetary and fiscal policies. Other matters, including internal security, would be the responsibility of East Timor.

He said these arrangements would be in conformity ``with most autonomous regions that are known in this world.''

The minister said independence was not viable for East Timor and Jakarta did not support the idea of a referendum -- pushed by some East Timorese -- because it could reopen old wounds and sharpen differences among various groups in the territory.

``We all know that East Timor is only half of an island right smack in the middle of 17,000 islands of the Indonesian archipelago,'' he told reporters.

He said a referendum on independence was not viable because it would be rejected by a large number of people in East Timor.

``If we are not careful indeed it could lead to a renewed civil war,'' he said.

``And therefore we believe that in our scenario, if it were to be accepted, all the opposing groups would then be free to return to East Timor, Xanana Gusmao will be free, those still in the mountains can go down and be completely amnestied.''

However, he ruled out any imminent release of Gusmao, the leading East Timorese opposition figure in Jakarta's jails.

He said that under Jakarta's plans East Timor would be able to elect its own regional parliament and set up its own educational system -- East Timor is largely Roman Catholic while most of Indonesia is overwhelmingly Moslem.

On Tuesday Indonesia began withdrawing some troops from East Timor, but Alatas said he did not have up-to-date information on the number of soldiers who had so far pulled out.

``The plan was in the first batch to withdraw 1,000 troops, mostly consisting of combat troops,'' he said.

Nearly 400 soldiers set sail from the territory on a warship on Tuesday.

Alatas said Indonesia had eight or nine battalions in East Timor, with 600 to 1,000 men in each, but most were territorial not combat troops, he said.

Austrian Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel, representing the European Union at an Asian security conference here, told Reuters he had been impressed by the amount of detail in the Indonesian proposals on East Timor.

The EU is pushing for Indonesia to release all political prisoners, including Gusmao, and it said in a statement this week that an early dialogue involving East Timorese leaders ``is imperative.''

Indonesia was targeted by protesters who picketed the ASEAN conference almost daily. On the first day of the conference last week, demonstrators carried signs or wore black T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan ``Free East Timor.''

One protester held high a blown-up picture of Gusmao.

On Tuesday, about 200 Chinese-Filipino teenage schoolchildren chased cars of conference delegates, thinking the Indonesians were in them.

It turned out to be a convoy for U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

The children, protesting against atrocities inflicted on Chinese Indonesians in the May rioting in Jakarta that contributed to the downfall of former president Suharto, were unfazed.

``We want justice'' and ``Indonesia respect human rights,'' they screamed.

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