Subject: RT: UN to consider new proposal on East Timor autonomy
Date: Thu, 25 Feb 1999 21:40:43 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <fbp@igc.apc.org>

UN to consider new proposal on East Timor autonomy 12:31 a.m. Feb 25, 1999 Eastern

By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 25 (Reuters) - The United Nations is seriously considering proposals for an indirect vote on East Timor's future that might break the deadlock in U.N. negotiations between Indonesia and Portugal, according to a senior British official.

Derek Fatchett, a minister of state in the British Foreign Office, said Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmao and others suggested an election for an ``embryonic national assembly'' with candidates for and against autonomy for the former Portuguese colony controlled by Indonesia.

The assembly would then decide on autonomy, which it would likely reject in favour of independence, and thereby avoid a direct referendum that Indonesia vigorously opposes.

``It is seriously being considered (and) will be part of the next round of U.N. discussions between the Indonesians and Portuguese,'' Fatchett told a group of reporters on Wednesday.

He also echoed earlier calls from Portugal and said the United Nations should begin preparing for a major role during the territory's expected transition to independence.

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony of 800,000 people, has for more than 20 years been the centre of a dispute that earned Jakarta international notoriety for its army's harsh rule in the territory. Indonesia's control is not recognised by the United Nations or most other countries in the world.

The United Nations has been conducting talks between Indonesia and Portugal on an autonomy package expected to be completed when the two sides meet March 9-10. It is to be presented to the Timorese, who are expected to reject it, as a majority are believed to prefer independence.

The current impasse is over how the Timorese would make known their opinion of autonomy -- a setup that would give them internal political control over their affairs but leave defence and foreign relations in Jakarta's hands.

Jakarta strongly opposes a referendum or any other kind of vote, fearing civil war might break out and that other regions of its sprawling archipelago might also seek to break away.

Indonesia in January suggested independence as a ``second option.'' The offer came after Jakarta plunged into economic and political turmoil last May when long-ruling President Suharto was replaced by President B.J. Habibie.

But if autonomy is rejected, Jakarta does not want the expense of a long transition to independence, which could occur as early as next January, despite expected turmoil in the country among those for and against self-rule.

Fatchett said Gusmao, whom Indonesia recently released from prison and put under house arrest, envisioned a lengthier process toward independence than might be feasible.

``I feel events are going to move very quickly and we are going to have to be on top of those events,'' he said.

He said the United Nations should be planning, along with Portugal, to take over East Timor if Indonesia, which invaded the territory in 1975, fulfils its pledge to relinquish control once the autonomy package is rejected.

But he said he did not think a U.N. peacekeeping force would be needed if administrative structures and other civilian entities were set up quickly.

``Gusmao is talking in terms of building in the political process so you move toward some kind of government of national unity,'' he said. ``That is the right definition of political leadership. Whether you can translate that on the ground, that is going to be the real challenge.''

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