Subject: Indonesia to open mission in East Timor soon

Indonesia to open mission in East Timor soon

By Joanne Collins

DILI, East Timor, Jan 3 (Reuters) - Indonesia plans to set up a diplomatic mission in East Timor by the end of February and establish formal ties with the restive territory it ruled until late last year, a U.N. official said on Monday.

East Timor's U.N. chief, Sergio Vieira de Mello, made the announcement after a delegation of 51 Indonesian government officials and businessmen investigated investment opportunities in the territory.

He told reporters in the capital, Dili, that the idea had been discussed with East Timorese independence leader Xanana Gusmao and Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid.

``As you know Xanana and myself discussed with President Wahid to open an Indonesian diplomatic mission here and we have informed them today that we have identified three houses in what is likely to become the diplomatic compound,'' Vieira de Mello said.

``We would like that office to be open as soon as possible, preferably in time for President Wahid's visit late February.''

East Timor is not yet fully independent and is under U.N. rule, so Indonesia will be represented by a mission rather than an embassy. The head of mission will have full diplomatic status.

The opening of an Indonesian mission in the territory is a mammoth leap in restoring relations between the two.

Only four months ago, pro-Jakarta militias waged a campaign of violence and destruction across the territory after nearly 80 percent of East Timorese voted in a U.N.-run ballot to sever ties with Indonesia after 24 years of often brutal rule.

``It is a commitment of our new government that we are going to establish a mission in East Timor by the end of February... or maybe earlier than that,'' said a senior member of the Indonesian delegation.

``This is a matter of building confidence between the people... and this is our task to build confidence,'' he said.

In another sign of improving relations, Indonesia's Merpati Nusantara Airlines said on Monday it planned to resume commercial flights between West and East Timor as soon as possible.

``We will start with maybe two flights a week first to Kupang and then if they want to fly people from here to Bali, they can connect with our flight from Kupang to Denpasar,'' said Merpati president director Wahyu Hidayat.

The government-owned airline -- which ran five flights per week from Dili airport before September -- said its target market would be U.N. staff, then Indonesian investors and tourists.

The United Nations said basic aviation services such as ground security and customs would need to be re-established at Dili airport before regular flights could resume.

``They could resume today but it's not that simple. I think Merpati still requires basic ground security, x-ray machines, metal detectors -- the sort of equipment we simply don't have here,'' Vieira de Mello said.

On future commercial ventures between Indonesia and East Timor, Vieira de Mello said more cooperation was needed from Indonesia's central bank.

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