Subject: DPA: Australia wants Wahid to visit first

Howard requests Wahid meeting before East Timor tripartite forum May 6, 2000 Agence France-Presse

SYDNEY, May 6 (AFP) - Australian Prime Minister John Howard has requested a meeting with Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid before agreeing to a tripartite forum with East Timor leader Xanana Gusmao.

The idea for the tri-nation meeting was floated by Wahid during recent talks with East Timorese leader Gusmao, who met Howard here Saturday for an hour.

"We are quite agreeable to ... there being a tripartite meeting between the Indonesian president, myself and Mr Gusmao," Howard told reporters.

"However, such a meeting should follow and be separate from a bilateral meeting between the Indonesian president and myself."

Howard said he would write to Wahid suggesting the two meet ahead of the proposed tripartite discussions.

He said his talks with Gusmao covered aspects of the proposed meeting, as well as issues such as progress and security in East Timor , Australia's support for the reconstruction effort and the development of the nation's judicial structure.

"I am filled with admiration for the efforts that are being made by Mr Gusmao and his colleagues to build a new nation in a very difficult situation," Howard said.

"Few territories in the world face such a daunting task as he and his colleagues are facing and they deserve the world's admiration and support."

Howard said other countries had a responsibility to help East Timor get back on track.

"Support is very important. We would emphasise that very strongly, that countries other than Australia have a responsibility, although we accept a particular role in East Timor ."

Australia's relationship with Indonesia has been strained since Australia led an international force in October to put an end to a militia rampage in the former Portuguese colony that Indonesia invaded in 1975.

In a referendum arranged by the United Nations last August, the East Timorese voted three to one to break away from Indonesia.

Following the vote, Indonesian-backed militias went on a killing spree, forcing some 250,000 East Timorese to flee or be forcibly deported to Indonesian West Timor .

Some 100,000 refugees remain in refugee camps in West Timor .

During a visit to Dili in February, Wahid apologised to the families of those killed fighting on both sides during Indonesia's annexation of the territory and in the aftermath of last year's referendum.

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