Subject: LUSA: High-Level Reconciliation Meet Underway in Baucau

24 May 01 12:06 East Timor: High-Level Reconciliation Meet Underway in Baucau

East Timorese political and Catholic church leaders Thursday began a three-day reconciliation meeting in Baucau with a large group of pro-Indonesian representatives who fled to West Timor after the independence plebiscite in 1999.

Dili's delegation to the talks, which will take place through Saturday behind closed doors, is headed by independence leader Xanana Gusmao, transition cabinet Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta and Baucau's Catholic bishop, Basilio do Nascimento.

The 50-strong pro-Jakarta team, who backed continued integration in Indonesia during the plebiscite, is led by Tito Baptista.

While previous such contacts have taken place, the Baucau meeting is the biggest and most senior-level ever.

Before the start of the talks, Gusmao said that Timorese from both sides of the independence divide must "learn to forgive".

Stressing the importance of the talks, Ramos Horta said that "one can't legislate reconciliation".

Bishop Nascimento said the "most urgent task" was the identification of the issues and uncertainties separating the two communities and then "tackling the bull by its horns".

About 20 percent of the East Timorese voted for continued links to Indonesia during the Aug. 30, 1999 plebiscite.

Anti-independence violence, launched by pro-Jakarta militias and Indonesian security forces, led to some 250,000 people fleeing or being forces into neighboring West Timor.

More than 100,000, many of them former opponents of independence, remain in West Timorese refugee camps, often under the intimidation of paramilitary gangs.

SAS -Lusa-

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