Subject: Top E.Timorese wants U.S. to help Indonesian army

Top E.Timorese wants U.S. to help Indonesian army

By Joanne Collins

JAKARTA, Jan 24 (Reuters) - One of East Timor's most prominent leaders, who denounced abuses by Indonesian troops in his homeland for decades, made a turnabout on Wednesday and urged the United States to resume military aid to Jakarta.

It was a bizarre change of tack for Nobel peace prize laureate Jose Ramos-Horta who was at the vanguard of the fight against the often brutal 23-year rule of East Timor by Indonesia.

"I will be talking with our friends in the U.S. Congress that it is time for the U.S. administration, the Congress, to resume some level of military assistance, military co-operation with Indonesia as a gesture of goodwill towards the improvement of the situation in West Timor," Ramos-Horta told a news conference in Jakarta.

His comments came less than two years after pro-Jakarta militia, backed by elements of the Indonesian military, waged a campaign of terror and violence in East Timor after nearly 80 percent of its people voted for independence.

The United Nations estimates 1,000 people were killed in the rampage and up to 300,000 herded across the border into refugee camps in Indonesian West Timor.

The United States, which maintains close military relations with most of East Asia, cut off military assistance to Indonesia following the violence.


The former freedom fighter and now foreign minister in U.N.-run East Timor, pointed out he would not lobby for "lethal" weapons when he visits the U.S. on Thursday.

He said he would be pushing for communications support, adding Indonesia's military resources had been stretched to the limit because of recent religious and communal fighting in the spice islands.

Ramos-Horta, one of the most vehement critics of the European Union when it decided to lift its arms embargo to Indonesia last year, justified his new stance by saying things had changed.

"The argument we used in the past has proved to be right in not supporting weapons training to non-democratic regimes...but there has been a new government here for now almost two years," he said.

"They have made tremendous progress in terms of human rights, freedom of press, freedom of assembly....reforming the armed forces."

But he earlier told Reuters a U.N. war crimes tribunal was still possible if Indonesia's courts failed to deal with perpetrators of the violence that surrounded the independence vote.

The Indonesian Attorney-General's office is investigating violence carried out during the ballot in the former Portuguese colony, but the courts have yet to hear any cases.


During his visit to Jakarta, Ramos-Horta said the Indonesian authorities gave assurances the security situation had improved in West Timor and urged the United Nations to consider resuming aid operations there as soon as possible.

"When the Indonesian authorities state categorically the situation has improved, we take it at face value. We don't say, I'm sorry we don't believe you."

The United Nations and other international aid agencies fled West Timor after three workers were butchered to death by a militia gang in the border town of Atambua last September.

Indonesia's foreign minister Alwi Shihab earlier told reporters he was somewhat surprised by Ramos-Horta's acknowledgement of better security in West Timor.

"I am glad that Mr Horta acknowledges and admits that (security has improved) and it was a remarkable statement from him," Shihab said.

Indonesia's military has come under repeated criticism at home for failing to reform after decades as the backbone of the autocratic rule of former President Suharto who eventually fell from power in 1998.


Ramos-Horta earlier told Reuters armed pro-Jakarta militia gangs based in West Timor remained a threat to the tiny territory and U.N. peacekeepers would most likely remain until 2004.

He said Australia -- which has the largest contingent of the nearly 8,000-strong peacekeeping force -- as well as Portugal and the United States had indicated they would support an extension.

But he believed the situation in West Timor was safe enough for U.N. aid workers to resume operations there.


See also: ETAN/IHRN - Continue Suspension of Military Ties With Indonesia 

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