Subject: IPS: Solidamor on peaceful transition to independence
From: "John M. Miller" <fbp@igc.apc.org>

Inter Press Service February 10, 1999, Wednesday

PAVING THE WAY FOR EAST TIMOR INDEPENDENCE By Samsudian Berlian

JAKARTA, Feb. 10

Since Indonesia's surprise announcement last month that it was willing to consider independence for East Timor, the question now is not when Jakarta will make good its word, but how to make the transition to an independent state with the minimum of turbulence.

The independence offer by President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie was welcomed by many, but scoffed at by some and caused tension among the territory's population of about 850,000 native Timorese and Indonesian settlers.

Some have raised fears of violence in East Timor, which has been under Indonesian rule since 1976, unless authorities manage the transition smoothly.

They point to the increasing number of militia groups in Timor opposing independence.

But one non-government organization in Jakarta, Solidamor, the Indonesian Solidarity for Peaceful Solution in East Timor, is working full-time to find ways to have Indonesia pull out of East Timor without losing face, and with the minimum of chaos on the part of East Timor.

Solidamor was formed last July by a group of people who have been active for years in trying to find a peaceful solution to the East Timor problem.

Bonar Tigor Naipospos, chair of Solidamor, said they were studying ways to ensure East Timor's peaceful transition into an independent nation, while keeping Indonesian hard-liners from agitating the fragile fabric of East Timorese society.

Today, the Indonesian government, under strong international pressure, moved jailed Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmao to house detention in Jakarta in another step that moves the Timor issue forward.

But authorities have ruled out freedom for Xanana, who is serving a 20-year prison term.

Pro-independence advocates and international leaders hope that Xanana, who has been in prison for six years, would be able to participate actively in the political dialogue on East Timor's future.

The foreign ministers of Portugal, which ended its colonial rule over East Timor in 1975, and Indonesia, which annexed it as its province the following year, have concluded another round of talks on Timorese autonomy in New York this week.

The two have yet to agree on the mechanism by which a proposed autonomy package would be presented to the East Timorese, but they set the next meeting for March 10.

Jakarta has earlier offered East Timor autonomy as a special region, but later said that if autonomy was rejected, it would considering granting independence to the troubled territory.

This can be done through a legislative act by the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), revoking a 1978 resolution that made East Timor a province of Indonesia.

Another important step, Naipospos said, is for Indonesia to declare a cease-fire and start a process of total disarmament of all groups in East Timor.

While a disarmament process should ideally be under United Nations supervision, Naipospos said, the full involvement of the Indonesian armed forces (ABRI) would help a great deal.

And amid reports that the military itself was arming various pro-integration groups in East Timor, Naipospos said he believed ABRI could be prevailed upon to disarm these groups if their honor were at stake.

After the region is cleared from combat weapons, a U.N.-led transitional authority should take place and the U.N. Peace Corps should replace ABRI troops, he said.

It would be useful, Naipospos added, if ABRI could serve as part of the U.N. Peace Corps for the same reason that it would act responsibly when its honor is at stake. Then there would be no fear that it would launch a covert operation to create disturbances, he said.

The U.N. then should initiate talks among the various parties in East Timor, including traditional leaders and pro-integration groups. A U.N.-supervised referendum could then determine whether East Timor will remain a province of Indonesia with wide-ranging autonomy, or to be an independent nation.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas has ruled out any referendum among the East Timorese, saying this could provoke civil war.

But Naipospos rejected this, and described it as being part of Indonesia's rhetoric.

"It is clear that East Timor has to go," he said. Those voices from East Timor currently demanding Indonesia to stay "come from weak small groups that have been breast-fed by Indonesia".

Any offer of independence to East Timor was unthinkable during the rule of Suharto, who was forced to resign last May amid worsening economic conditions and a growing movement for democracy.

But the present government seems convinced that keeping East Timor under its rule will result in greater political and economic costs, analysts say.

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