|Subject: AFP: Aust Labor's E. Timor policy shift
Date: Wed, 16 Sep 1998 19:26:49 +1300
From: sonny inbaraj <firstname.lastname@example.org> Organization: The AustralAsian
Australia's Labor backs self-determination for ETimor in policy shift
Wed 16 Sep 98 - 07:06 GMT
SYDNEY, Sept 16 (AFP) - East Timor's separatist movement welcomed Wednesday a major policy shift by Australia's Labor opposition backing talks leading to self-determination for the troubled province.
The policy, unveiled by Labor's foreign affairs spokesman Laurie Brereton on Tuesday ahead of elections on October 3, conceded a succession of governments including Labor ones were wrong in supporting Indonesia's annexation of the former Portuguese colony following the 1975 invasion.
The new policy also calls for the immediate release of political prisoners such as resistance leader Xanana Gusmao, for a special envoy on East Timor and for increased financial assistance.
Brereton said resolution of the unrest in East Timor was unlikely without negotiations towards self-determination, and admitted Labor's new approach was a far cry from when the party was last in government.
"It is a substantial change and it is one that we believe is entirely appropriate as we try and take advantage of the opportunity of putting right one of the great tragedies on our doorstep," Brereton said.
"I don't believe East Timor is unviable as a stand-alone nation."
He said it was an issue with which successive administrations, whether coalition or Labor, had all had great difficulty.
East Timor's resistance movement spokesman in Australia, Nobel Laureate Jose Ramos Horta, welcomed Labor's position, which he said followed years of Australian complicity in the annexation and occupation of East Timor.
It also followed "many years of lies, half truths, omissions" and even vindictiveness by Canberra towards the region, he said.
"All of that we are prepared to put back if Australia were to recommend such policy as recommended now by the Labor Party," Ramos Horta told ABC radio.
"When you acknowledge that Australia was wrong for too long, it required courage and humility to say that we were wrong, let's change. So they cannot but be highly commended for this courageous stance."
An Australian commitment to a referendum on independence was the crucial issue because it would ensure stability, he said.
The Darwin-based East Timorese International Support Centre said in a letter to Brereton that wounds suffered by East Timorese under past Labor governments "still fester."
It urged Labor if it won government to review Australia's military ties with Indonesia "in order to give substance to your promises yesterday."
The centre said it was alarmed by reports that Canberra intended to maintain close links with the Indonesian military despite evidence it has committed atrocities throughout Indonesia and East Timor.
Ramos Horta also challenged Australia's conservative government to commit itself to a referendum on East Timorese independence.
But his call was rejected by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who said improving the situation in East Timor was better done by encouraging the Indonesian government and creating a dialogue about the area's future.
Downer also rejected Labor's new policy.
"I don't think anyone should take seriously Labor's position, they had 13 years to address this issue and stood on the shores of Australia and just stared at East Timor," Downer said.
Under the government of then Labor prime minister Robert Hawke in 1985, Australia was the first Western country to recognise Jakarta's sovereignty over East Timor prior to signing a treaty to share revenue from oil exploration in the Timor Gap with Indonesia.