Subject: East Timorese Leaders Hold Talks

The Associated Press May 24, 2001

East Timorese Leaders Hold Talks


BAUCAU, East Timor (AP) - East Timor's pro- and anti-independence leaders began reconciliation talks Thursday aimed at getting an agreement to let tens of thousands of refugees return home.

Top East Timorese politicians said they also hope the talks will persuade anti-independence militias to end their armed struggle. The militias have attacked U.N. peacekeepers and villages in East Timor from hide-outs in West Timor, which is part of Indonesia.

More than 250,000 East Timorese were forced to flee their homes when the anti-independence militias, backed by Indonesia's army, went on a rampage after East Timor voted to break away from Indonesia in a U.N.-sponsored referendum in August 1999.

Most of the refugees have since returned home. But many of those remaining in the West Timor camps voted for East Timor to remain part of Indonesia and fear reprisals if they return.

Anti-independence leader Filomeno de Jesus Hornay said that if the three-day reconciliation meeting is successful, about 50,000 refugees in West Timor may return home before a historic pre-independence election for a new governing assembly in East Timor on Aug. 30.

``As long as we continue the dialogue, it could be possible for refugees to return before the election,'' Hornay said.

Security was tight for the meeting. Baucau, about 60 miles east of the East Timor capital, Dili, was blocked off. Peacekeepers patrolled on foot and in armored vehicles.

East Timor's U.N. administrators prevented militia leaders from taking part in the talks. The anti-independence leaders attending sided with the militias in the 1999 ballot, but used diplomacy, rather than violence, in their struggle to remain part of Indonesia.

East Timorese Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos Horta - expected to become the territory's foreign minister after independence is granted next year - said the talks were an important step toward a lasting peace.

``Expectations are high that this will lead to long lasting reconciliation,'' he said.

Independence leader Jose Alexandre ``Xanana'' Gusmao, who is widely expected to become the territory's first president, also attended.

Although the two sides have held small-scale meetings, Thursday's talks were the first time nearly all the leaders from both sides got together. 

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