Subject: RT: Short ride for rebel, long path for Timor
From: "John M. Miller" <fbp@igc.apc.org>

ANALYSIS-Short ride for rebel, long path for Timor 03:30 a.m. Feb 10, 1999 Eastern

By Terry Friel

JAKARTA, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Nestled in a leafy Jakarta suburb, number 47 Jalan Percetakan Negara VII is an unlikely place to decide the fate of a nation.

But the poet-turned-guerrilla leader who now lives in the modest whitewashed bungalow, and the steady stream of visitors who will meet him, are pivotal to the future of the 800,000 people in the bloodied territory of East Timor.

The transfer of rebel chief Xanana Gusmao from his cramped prison cell to house arrest on Wednesday is a sign of the sea change in Jakarta's thinking on its most troublesome province.

``(House arrest) is really just symbolic,'' pro-independence figure Manuel Carrascalao told Reuters from Dili.

``But it's still a good step. Indonesia is opening up a little, but we still want independence.''

The government and Gusmao say he will use his increased freedom to help unite pro and anti-Jakarta Timorese after 23 years of bitter and bloody divisions.

``I feel that with talks with East Timorese from all sides I can create an East Timorese nation,'' said the man many expect to lead a free East Timor despite his protestations that he doesn't want the job.

The government has made it clear that Gusmao will be closely involved in domestic and international negotiations over East Timor's fate.

Analysts and diplomats believe a solution to the problems of the disputed former Portuguese colony is now closer than at any time since Indonesian troops stormed the sleepy capital of Dili in December, 1975.

``I have been working on East Timorese issues for 19 years,'' U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Stanely Roth said last week after talks in Jakarta.

``This is the first time in that 19 year period that I am optimistic that there is a basis for a political settlement.''

But much remains to be done.

President B.J. Habibie says he still wants the eastern half of Timor island to remain part of this sprawling archipelago.

Searching for a way to finally win international approval for Indonesia's rule, Jakarta is offering ``special autonomy'' giving East Timorese more power over their own affairs, including their own elections, parliament and party system.

However, it is a take-it-or-leave-it deal.

Rejection means the government will ask the top legislative body, the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) to consider letting East Timor go it alone after the June 7 national election.

The prospect of an abrupt Indonesian withdrawal after years of brutal rule which encouraged Timorese divisions has sparked fears of a return to the civil war that erupted after Portugal quit suddenly in 1975.

Some analysts believe Habibie is bluffing and simply wants to distract attention for the countdown to an election polls show the ruling Golkar Party has little hope of winning, at the same time pandering to international donors.

``It is for domestic political reasons -- he's trying to take people's attention off the election, because he can't win,'' said Muhammad Hikam, from the government's Institute of Sciences.

``He is also hoping he will have more latitude in bargaining with international donors,'' he told Reuters.

Even if the Habibie government is serious about considering independence, pro-independence activists face what may be a bigger challenge -- the election.

Polls show Habibie's government is likely to be dumped or at least forced into a coalition, possibly as a junior partner.

Fearing similar demands from other restive provinces, none of the major opposition leaders support the idea of immediate independence for Indonesia's 27th province.

One, the National Mandate Party's Amien Rais, does support an eventual vote by East Timorese on their future in about a decade.

But the other leading opposition figures, Megawati Sukarnoputri and Abdurrahman Whid, reject independence outright.

Said Wahid: ``East Timor has to be a part of our nation.''

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