Subject: Gusmao thanks 'sister Mega' for acknowledging E. Timor independence

Gusmao thanks 'sister Mega' for acknowledging East Timor independence

JAKARTA, Sept 12 (AFP) - Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri met East Timorese leaders for the first time Wednesday, breaking her two-year coolness towards the territory since it broke away from Indonesian rule.

At Jakarta's state palace, Megawati met the man who led the struggle against Indonesia's 24-year occupation, Xanana Gusmao, foreign minister Jose Ramos Horta, the UN's chief administrator in the territory Sergio Vieira de Mello, and Fretilin party leader Mari Alkatiri.

"It was a very cordial, fruitful meeting," Gusmao told reporters afterwards.

De Mello said the "broad-ranging" talks touched on the 50,000-80,000 East Timorese refugees in camps in Indonesian-ruled West Timor.

They also raised the case of 124 East Timorese children held in orphanages in Java, the payment of pensions for East Timorese who worked for the Indonesian civil service and a bilateral free trade proposal.

Leaders of the half-island territory, some six months away from full independence, thanked Megawati for acknowledging East Timor's sovereignty in her inaugural state of the nation address last month.

"We congratulated Megawati on her appointment and her words on East Timor in her recent statement," de Mello said, calling her statement a "courageous initiative."

In her speech Megawati, a fervent nationalist, said East Timor was never meant to be part of Indonesia since her father, founding president Sukarno, had decreed that its territory was defined by the former Dutch East Indies.

East Timor was ruled formerly by Portugal, not the Netherlands.

"We congratulate sister Mega for the great responsibility to lead Indonesia to better times," Gusmao said.

"Of course we... expressed our gratitude for her statement and for all the work she's putting into solving the many problems between the two countries."

The East Timorese proposed a free trade zone between their territory and the neighbouring Indonesian province of East Nusa Tenggara (NTT).

"For the establishment of a good relationship between Indonesia and East Timor we need to establish first of all good relations between NTT and East Timor," Alkatiri said.

Alkatiri is secretary general of the veteran resistance party Fretilin, which has just won East Timor's first free elections. He is widely expected to become prime minister in a proposed semi-presidential system, with Gusmao unanimously expected to become president.

The East Timorese leaders also congratulated Megawati for widening the scope of a human rights tribunal which is being established to try crimes committed during the territory's 1999 vote for independence.

An existing agreement which allows for the extradition of people charged with crimes in either country will also be discussed with officials from the Indonesian Attorney General's Office.

Jakarta has flouted the pact several times by refusing to hand over people wanted in East Timor.

"We'd like to reenergise that memorandum of understanding," de Mello said.

The delegation also discussed plans for anticipated mass returns of refugees following East Timor's peaceful elections on August 30.

"There are indications that thousands of refugees from NTT will start returning to East Timor," de Mello said.

Some 180,000 refugees have already returned home. An estimated quarter-million fled or were forced over the border following the 1999 independence vote, which triggered a deadly militia rampage.

Alkatiri said most remaining refugees now want to go home.

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