Subject: Indonesia among the first to host E. Timor embassy

The Jakarta Post April 20, 2002

RI among the first to host E. Timor embassy

A'an Suryana, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesia is among the first countries the newly established state of East Timor plans to establish diplomatic ties with, underlining the desire for a peaceful coexistence between the two neighbors.

"This proves that Indonesia is one of the most important countries for East Timor," Francisco Cepeda, an official with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the East Timor Public Administration (EPTA), was quoted by Antara as saying on Friday.

East Timor's other top priorities in opening embassies overseas will be the United States, Portugal, Australia and the European Union.

Cepeda made his statement while discussing the election of Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao as the first president of East Timor and the ongoing preparations for the former Portuguese colony to become a new country on May 20.

East Timor was part of Indonesia until it voted for independence on Aug. 30, 1999.

Despite the stated desire to build harmonious relations, history could cast a shadow over future ties between East Timor and Indonesia. East Timorese independence strugglers waged over two decades of guerrilla war against Indonesian rule, and East Timor president-elect Xanana Gusmao served a seven-year jail term in Jakarta before being released prior to the UN-sanctioned self-determination ballot.

Indonesia has welcomed the announced plan to open an embassy in Indonesia. Khalid Akbar, Indonesia's representative in East Timor, said the decision clearly showed that Indonesia possessed an important diplomatic and political position in the eyes of the East Timor administration.

Meanwhile, observers urged President Megawati Soekarnoputri to accept an invitation by the UN and EPTA to attend East Timor's independence declaration on May 20.

Dewi Fortuna Anwar, a senior researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, said Megawati's presence at the ceremony would help Indonesia win over the international community.

"(Through the visit) the international community would perceive Indonesia as a big nation which recognizes the sovereignty of East Timor," Dewi, a former adviser to former president B.J. Habibie, told The Jakarta Post.

It was Habibie who agreed to allow the people of East Timor to choose whether to remain a part of Indonesia or become independent. The decision to allow the self-determination vote sparked anger among Indonesians, particularly nationalists and the military.

Separately, Bantarto Bandoro of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies said Megawati's presence at East Timor's declaration of independence would lay a solid foundation for future bilateral ties between the two neighbors.


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