Subject: ABC Online News: Labor to grill Downer on E Timor report

Labor to grill Downer on E Timor report

The Federal Opposition says it will question Foreign Minister Alexander Downer in Parliament about whether he lobbied Jakarta to delay East Timor's independence vote six years ago.

A report to the United Nations has found Australia actively lobbied to delay East Timor's independence ballot in 1999 and prevent its separation from Indonesia.

The 2,500-page report accuses Australia of violating its duties under international law.

East Timor's Truth and Reconciliation Commission has spent three years collecting evidence about Indonesia's 25-year occupation of East Timor.

Its report, which has been obtained by the ABC, says Australia wanted East Timor to remain part of Indonesia.

The report found that when former president BJ Habibie was about to offer the East Timorese a choice between remaining part of Indonesia and independence, Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer made it clear it would be preferable if Timor remained legally part of Indonesia and actively lobbied the government in Jakarta to delay the independence vote.

Labor's spokesman for foreign affairs, Kevin Rudd, says the revelations are remarkable given Mr Downer's public crusade for East Timor's independence.

"We'll ask questions," Mr Rudd said.

"If he sought to delay East Timor's independence and instead to postpone the independence ballot and in the meantime have East Timor retained for some indefinite period of time as part of the Indonesian republic, I think the Australian people would want to know that."


Federal Treasurer Peter Costello says Australia can be proud of its role in East Timor's struggle for independence.

Mr Costello says Australia has made a significant contribution to East Timor's independence.

"I don't know what's in this report but I know one thing - if it hadn't have been for the Australian Government committing troops to East Timor and securing the situation, we wouldn't have an independent nation of East Timor today and again Australia can hold its head high," he said.

Almost 80 per cent of East Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia in August 1999.

The report says Australia's actions were in violation of its duties under international law to support and refrain from undermining the East Timorese people's right to self-determination.

The commission says Australian policy after the 1975 invasion by Indonesia was influenced by a desire to negotiate a favourable outcome on the maritime boundary in the Timor Sea.

Mr Downer says the Government has not received a copy of East Timor's Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.

A spokesman for the Minister says the Government's position on the issue was clearly articulated at the time and Australia supported reconciliation and an act of self-determination for the East Timorese.

The spokesman says the timing of the independence vote was always going to be negotiated between Dili and Jakarta.

Back to January menu
December 2005 menu    
World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu