Subject: RT: Australia calls for troop reductions
Date: Thu, 12 Nov 1998 07:22:40 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <email@example.com>
INTERVIEW-Australia says too many E.Timor troops By John Mair
CANBERRA, Nov 12 (Reuters) - Australia called for a much smaller Indonesian military presence in East Timor as the restive territory remembered on Thursday a 1991 massacre by troops there.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told Reuters the number of troops in East Timor was still too high and should be substantially reduced to pave the way for a lasting peace.
Downer was speaking in a Reuters Television interview on Wednesday night, on the eve of the anniversary of the Dili massacre in which troops opened fire on a funeral march of unarmed protesters in the province's capital.
East Timorese say about 200 protesters were killed. Jakarta puts the death toll at 50.
``We think the troop numbers, whatever they are in East Timor, are still too great and that it would be helpful to the process of reconciliation in East Timor to reduce the numbers below their current level,'' Downer said.
``It's not for us to get into an argument about what the exact levels are, but we think it would be for the best if the levels of the troop numbers were substantially less than they are at present,'' he added.
In late October documents purportedly leaked from the Indonesian military and released by a pro-East Timor group showed troop numbers in East Timor increased a month after Jakarta said it had begun cutting its defence-force presence in the province.
The report put troop numbers at almost 18,000 in August and a total defence-force presence, including civilian militia, of 21,620. The Indonesian military said at the time there were only 3,000 troops.
On Tuesday, Indonesia's military commander for East Timor, Colonel Tono Suratman, told Reuters that troops and police in the province numbered 10,500.
Downer said Australia had had mixed responses from Jakarta in its efforts to verify the authenticity of the leaked documents.
Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony of East Timor in 1975 and annexed it the following year. The annexation is not recognised by the United Nations, although it is by Australia.
Downer said Australia wanted to see a constructive dialogue between the parties to the East Timor conflict, but acknowledged it would be a slow and difficult process.
He said his department had put together an analysis of different views on East Timor, based on consultations with people around the world who were party to the dispute, and had presented the report to Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas.
Downer said a possible model for any resolution could be the ceasefire agreement signed between secessionist rebels and the Papua New Guinea government in April which ended a nine-year rebellion on the South Pacific island of Bougainville.
The Bougainville agreement called for a ceasefire monitored by an unarmed international force, demilitarisation of the island capital, abolition of a standing ``call out'' order for the army, reconstruction of Bougainville and the discussion of autonomy.
``And in East Timor we'd like to see a process, not necessarily identical to that, but a process which could draw from the experience in Bougainville,'' Downer said.
Downer said Australia would be happy to facilitate any peace process but the key players were the East Timorese and the Indonesians.
``Trying to impose blueprints from the outside or making injudicious statements as the foreign minister of a neighbouring country can be less helpful than helpful,'' he said.
Indonesian President B.J. Habibie has offered East Timor more autonomy, but pro-independence groups have rejected the offer, preferring a referendum.
Habibie in May replaced President Suharto who ordered the invasion of East Timor. Human rights groups say the subsequent conflict and famine killed about 200,000 Timorese.
East Timor's resistance movement, Fretilin, carries on a low-level insurgency from the jungles of the rugged region, sometimes attacking military targets. Indonesia estimates the number of the rebels at 200.