Subject: AAP: Habibie offered to hand uncontrollable East Timor to UN

Australian Associated Press July 17, 2001

Habibie offered to hand uncontrollable East Timor to UN

By Karen Polglaze, Diplomatic Correspondent

CANBERRA, July 17 AAP - Indonesian President BJ Habibie promised to hand East Timor to the United Nations if the situation in the lead-up to the independence ballot became uncontrollable, a book launched today said.

International concern mounted in the months before the ballot on August 30, 1999, as rising violence by pro-integration militia groups backed by the Indonesian military threatened to compromise a free and fair vote.

Dr Habibie said several times that if the problems became unmanageable, he would unilaterally hand over to the UN the half-island officially integrated into Indonesia in 1976 after its troops invaded in 1975.

He had even made the suggestion to Prime Minister John Howard at a meeting in Bali in April, 1999, according to the book published by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, entitled East Timor in Transition 1998 - 2000: An Australian Policy Challenge.

At the time, Indonesia had rejected UN peacekeepers being deployed in East Timor ahead of the ballot despite considerable international pressure.

Concerns mounted over security in the wake of the massacre at a church in Liquica, west of Dili, on April 6, and the attack on the Dili house of leading independence figure Manuel Carrascalao which left up to 12 dead.

But efforts to encourage Indonesia to accept peacekeepers were thwarted and negotiators were worried if they pushed too hard, Indonesia would abandon the ballot altogether and never revisit it.

"Alternatively, Indonesia might abort the consultation process and withdraw unilaterally from East Timor," the book said.

"Such a precipitate departure would have served no-one's interests."

While UN control was superficially attractive because the violence would be stopped, diplomats believed East Timor must undergo a proper ballot to ensure the will of the people was to separate.

Given a proportion of the population wanted to remain part of Indonesia, the question might continue to tear the new nation apart if there was no real choice offered and made.

A senior DFAT official said Dr Habibie's promise to hand over East Timor was not considered credible.

"It was a sort of hollow posture," the official said.

"We did not believe, even if President Habibie said that, that the Indonesian system would act in a way to suddenly precipitately vacate East Timor.

"We did not expect the military would cooperate with such an action, we didn't think it was on."

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