Subject: UN Press Briefing summary
From: "John M. Miller" <fbp@igc.apc.org>

9 February 1999 Press Briefing

PRESS BRIEFING ON EAST TIMOR 19990209

At the conclusion of two days of intensive talks on East Timor, the Secretary-General's Personal Representative, Jamsheed Marker, the Foreign Minister of Portugal, Jaime Gama, and the Foreign Minister of Indonesia, Ali Alatas, briefed the press Monday evening at Headquarters.

Mr. Marker told correspondents that the talks began yesterday when the Secretary-General saw both Mr. Alatas, and Mr. Gama, before he went to Amman, Jordan. They had very positive discussions -- quick, but substantive -- that set the tone, the pace and the track for subsequent meetings held yesterday and today.

Mr. Marker said he was most grateful to both Foreign Ministers for the spirit of accommodation, understanding and high statesmanship they had displayed throughout the negotiations. Those were not cliches, but sincere comments. The problems had been difficult and complicated, but the desire to find a solution was paramount in the deliberations.

What had happened, he continued, was that the Ministers were presented with a text on the whole issue of wide-ranging autonomy for East Timor, which would be an appendix to an agreement. It contained a number of very complicated issues. The senior officials had developed the text as far as possible, but there were certain political elements that had to be placed before the Ministers. That had now happened, and the Ministers were able to remove most of the major outstanding issues. On the few important issues that remained, there was an understanding that consultations with the two Governments were required.

The draft agreement was also currently under consideration, he explained. It set out the views of both sides and the desire to reach an agreement, particularly on the proposals for autonomy. The proposals for autonomy were nearly a "clean" text. They would now be considered by the respective governments and Mr. Marker would wait to hear from the Ministers. He did not expect to wait very long, as the Ministers had agreed that their senior officials would meet for the next session of talks on 9 March, and the Ministers themselves would meet on 10 March. By the end of 10 March, he expected the United Nations would have a direction in which to pursue its activities on East Timor.

Mr. Marker added that he was not in a position to provide the text to correspondents, but he hoped he would be able to do that later in the process.

With regard to another element in the process, Mr. Marker said, he had been holding discussions with East Timorese leaders and keeping them informed as much as possible, as had been done in the past. He had met today with some of those leaders. Eventually the documents on the autonomy proposal would have to be circulated amongst them. He proposed to do that as soon as they were cleared and ready for discussion -- and he hoped that would not take very long. He described his current state as one of "very profound optimism".

The Foreign Minister of Portugal, Mr. Gama, said that matters had been discussed in a substantive way. Until now, attention had been concentrated on a draft model for democratic autonomy. The next move would be discussion of an agreement that would deal with how the model would be presented to the East Timorese, in a democratic manner, to get their views of the proposal.

Then, Mr. Gama continued, according to an Indonesian statement, if the East Timorese refused the model of democratic autonomy, there would be another step. That would entail returning the issue to the United Nations and reopening the decolonization processes. Portugal very strongly praised the work of the United Nations on East Timor, especially that of the Secretary- General and Mr. Marker. Portugal also held its own consultations with the East Timorese, although the work of the United Nations in the area was very important, he said.

Some assessment of final points of the draft were being undertaken, he continued, and discussion on the agreement was commencing. It was very important to find a solution based on democratic principles. It also had to be based on international law, which included peaceful relations between Portugal and Indonesia.

The Foreign Minister of Indonesia, Mr. Alatas, told correspondents that the meeting had been productive. Substantive progress had been made. Some points still needed further discussion and thought, but the Ministers had covered most of the text put together by their senior officials. The Indonesian delegation believed that the talks were on the right track, and moving towards finalizing the substantive content of a model for wide-ranging autonomy and a special status for East Timor.

The draft text the parties would now be looking at would be the main agreement, he added. It would be the final act, explaining the two positions and the gist of the model described in the annex.

As he had explained before, Indonesia continued to believe that its proposed solution -- establishing a special status with wide-ranging autonomy for East Timor -- remained the best solution. It was the most realistic, viable and peaceful solution and a good compromise. Therefore, Indonesia believed that, first and foremost, the parties should try to reach agreement on a good text on that proposal, which they were now in the process of obtaining.

Then, the text should be presented to the East Timorese people inside and outside Indonesia, he said, in order to determine their reaction. Indonesia had asked for the help of the United Nations to devise the best way

East Timor Press Briefing - 3 - 9 February 1999

to determine whether or not the draft autonomy package would be acceptable to the East Timorese people, or would be rejected. Only then could they move towards the next phase.

If the East Timorese people accepted the plan as a compromise, Indonesia would implement it, he said, and steps would be taken in the United Nations in accordance with the agreement.

If the proposal was rejected by the majority of East Timorese, Indonesia had now put forward a second option, he continued. Under that option, the matter would be brought to the Indonesian People's Consultative Assembly. Elections in Indonesia for that Assembly were due on 7 June, and it would, therefore, meet by the end of August. It would be proposed to the Assembly that it consider, in the light of the rejection, whether it might be better or wiser to part ways with East Timor. That would involve rescinding an earlier Assembly resolution, which accepted integration of East Timor into Indonesia in 1978, and replacing it with a new resolution to part ways in a dignified, peaceful and orderly manner. After that, East Timor would legally revert back to its status before integration; that of a non-self governing territory, within the context of the United Nations, with Portugal as its administering Power.

A lot of "ifs" and "whens" remained before there would be a final outcome, Mr. Alatas continued. Which route would be taken would be discovered later in the year. That said, he was very pleased that progress was being made on the first step -- finalizing agreement on the proposal for wide- ranging autonomy and then placing it before the East Timorese.

Asked whether Indonesia would allow the United Nations to conduct a referendum to ascertain the views of East Timorese, Mr. Alatas said that the basic position of Indonesia on that had been stated before. A referendum, or any decision using that form of assessment of views, was not the way to proceed, because of inherent risks and dangers. The result might be civil war. Rather, Indonesia had asked the United Nations to work with it to find a way, short of a referendum, to consult the East Timorese.

Consultations had already occurred, he continued. Mr. Marker had consulted with East Timorese in Portugal and Indonesia. That process might have to be expanded, making it wider in its scope and perhaps improving on its methodology. To be frank, he concluded, they did not yet know how best to achieve that, which was why it was one of the issues still being discussed.

Asked if it was possible or permissible for the United Nations to determine the package accepted or rejected without a popular vote, Mr. Marker explained that there were discussions underway as to how it might be done. However, there was no question of short-circuiting the democratic process. That could not be done. The trick was "to kill the snake without breaking the stick". Right now, he was looking for the stick.

East Timor Press Briefing - 4 - 9 February 1999

Mr. Alatas added that, in the past, the United Nations had used various ways of assessing the views of people. Forms of United Nations assessment of people's views determined without referendums had been widely accepted.

Mr. Gama said that, at the end of the twentieth century, with democracy expanding, he could not see the United Nations using any methods other than democratic methods to determine the views of people. That meant a voting process was essential. Portugal's acceptance of the result of what was now being negotiated would be proportional to the legitimacy of the process the United Nations chose. That was, he stressed, Portugal's position.

Asked whether Indonesia had agreed to allow a vote in East Timor and had subsequently changed its position, as had been reported, Mr. Gama said that he had previously explained what he hoped for from the umbrella agreement, which would cover the model for autonomy and would elaborate United Nations actions in the matter. He would not comment further.

Mr. Alatas said that he had, this morning, explained in great detail the state of play on the methodology for finding out the views of the East Timorese. Indonesia realized, as did Portugal and the Secretary-General, that a methodology must be found that was acceptable to all parties, and would also be deemed acceptable by the international community. Indonesia was open minded about the methodology, short of accepting a referendum. Referendums were complex and not easily organized. He continued to believe that, for practical reasons linked to the situation and history of the East Timorese, such a method was fraught with all kinds of risks.

In response to another question, Mr. Marker said consultations with the East Timorese on the proposal must begin immediately, once there was agreement on the model to be presented.

Asked about a United Nations presence during the process, Mr. Alatas said that when the stage was reached where the United Nations was organizing the consultations in implementation of what had been agreed, the United Nations would have to be in East Timor. At that stage of the negotiations, the United Nations needed no permanent presence. It was not necessary. United Nations representatives came to East Timor regularly. A United Nations office there would prejudge the position on the subject under dispute.

Mr. Gama said a United Nations presence would be needed for a fair consultation and for the possibility of an independent process.

Asked to respond to statements, attributed to the East Timorese leader, José Ramos Horta, that the possibility of civil war could be eliminated immediately if the territory was demilitarized and if the guns handed out in recent weeks were collected, Mr. Alatas said he had spoken about the danger of conflict should a referendum be held. If Indonesia were ever to agree to the holding of a referendum in East Timor, the Indonesian army would not be there.

East Timor Press Briefing - 5 - 9 February 1999

They would have been withdrawn, as would the Indonesian local government. The United Nations would have to be there, with United Nations troops. Only then could a referendum take place.

Continuing, Mr. Alatas said that the accusation that the Indonesian army was arming those East Timorese who favoured integration, so they could fight against independence, that was misinformation and disinformation. Indonesia was accustomed to that kind of disinformation after 23 years. What was happening in Indonesia, not just in East Timor, was that there was a severe shortage of security personnel, especially police, who were needed to quell disturbances occurring everywhere. Indonesia was facing a very serious situation. The size of the police force was woefully inadequate and since new police could not be recruited quickly and cheaply, it had been decided to organize "people's guards", to guard the villages and certain urban areas. They were selectively armed; that is, they had arms ready for them if necessary. In some cases, the arms referred to were sticks. That was also happening in East Timor. The number of people involved in East Timor was only a few hundred, not the 20,000 that he had read somewhere.

The last thing that Indonesia would want, if the East Timor problem was being settled, was civil war again in East Timor, he continued. The brunt of the civil war would be borne by Indonesia, as happened in 1975 when 45,000 East Timorese fled to the western part of the island.

Asked what Indonesia's objection was to the idea of temporary autonomy for East Timor, pending a referendum on independence at a specified later date, Mr. Alatas explained that Indonesia had presented the offer of autonomy and special status, conforming to international standards. If it was not wanted, and the East Timorese were free to not want it, then why should Indonesia be asked to continue to bear the burden of East Timor's financing and continue to bear the burden of all kinds of accusations if anything went wrong? Indonesia's proposition was both clearer and fairer. Since the two alternatives had been made available, there had been a crystallization of the views in the East Timorese community, and they now understood which solution would be to their advantage.

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