Subject: IPS: E Timor Peace Agreement Finalised but Hurdles Remain
Date: Sat, 24 Apr 1999 11:08:10 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <fbp@igc.apc.org>

Received from Joyo:

Peace Agreement Finalised but Hurdles Remain <Picture>

By Farhan Haq

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 23 (IPS) - Indonesia and Portugal agreed Friday to a peace process for East Timor but many obstacles remain to be cleared before the pact can be signed and implemented, UN officials warned.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, cautioning that he had to consult with Jakarta for final approval of the agreement, said that his government would sign the peace pact by May 5. It includes an autonomy plan for East Timor, side documents on security arrangements and a consultation process.

''I look forward to concluding this historic process on May 5, when all these agreements will be signed,'' added UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan.

But there were many steps to be taken before the East Timor accords were signed, let alone before the people of the former Portuguese colony, invaded by Indonesia in 1975, could decide whether to accept or reject the autonomy plan.

One UN official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, warned that Indonesian officials - particularly its military leaders - might still reject some of the security arrangements that were agreed to in this week's talks.

Beyond that problem, officials also were wary of the high level of violence in East Timor, where pro-Indonesia paramilitary forces have been blamed for killing more than 20 people in the capital, Dili, last weekend.

''For the effectiveness of these agreements, it is crucial to restore peace and stability,'' said Portuguese Foreign Minister Jaime Gama.

Gama contended that, although the threat of violence in Dili had eased since pro-independence and pro-Indonesia forces signed a cease-fire pact Wednesday, intimidation and killings had continued to flare in the countryside.

Jose Ramos Horta, a leader of the pro-independence National Council for Timorese Resistance, argued that, because Jakarta faced defeat in any vote on autonomy, ''they set into motion a strategy aimed at derailing the whole process.''

The Indonesian Army (or ABRI), he alleged, had paid for and armed the paramilitaries responsible for the recent violence.

Ramos Horta doubted that any vote on whether to accept autonomy or independence could be held as long as an estimated 20,000 Indonesian troops remain on East Timor - a region which only boasts some 840,000 people.

''We certainly look forward to the date when the people of East Timor finally will be called upon - without threats, without coercion - to vote on their future,'' Ramos Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said. But he warned, ''How can a vote take place...with the Indonesian Army there?''

Alatas, however, called for both the pro-Indonesia and pro- independence sides to be demobilised, arguing, ''It is not a question of disarming only the so-called militias'' but also the Timorese liberation army, called FALINTIL.

The problem of demobilising combatants is made especially complex because of the potential problems over which party will carry out such work.

The United Nations refused to reveal details of the security arrangements until all agreements were signed next month but all sides conceded it was unlikely that UN peacekeeping troops ccould be deployed.

''UN peacekeeping forces have never been an issue that has been raised,'' Alatas said. The United Nations, he added, ''will contribute to security - but it will certainly not be in the form of a peacekeeping force''.

''The United Nations cannot send a peacekeeping force on its own,'' UN envoy Jamsheed Marker acknowledged. He said that the world body would try to establish a presence in East Timor as soon as the accords were signed, but added that he doubted that peacekeepers were needed.

Yet Ramos Horta feared that the alternative to a UN force would be to allow the ABRI - which human rights groups have blamed for killing more than 200,000 Timorese since the 1975 invasion - to be in charge of peace and security on the ground.

Such a policy, he argued, would be ''like expecting Saddam Hussein to broker peace between his own troops and the Kurds''.

There was a consensus among UN officials that some effective UN presence was needed on the ground to monitor conditions prior to any vote on the autonomy plan.

Sources told IPS that several countries - including Australia, Japan, Germany and the United States - could be deemed as suitable by Jakarta for disarming both sides and ensuring a fair vote.

Behind that hurdle are several logistical problems before any vote can be held. Sources claimed that the Indonesian and Portuguese governments had agreed tentatively to wrap up any voting by Aug. 8 and to announce results by Aug. 15.

That would in turn require that the United Nations register voters and draw up voting procedures within the next few weeks which, in turn, was sure to provoke controversy.

Annan has noted that many areas where Timorese exiles reside - including Portugal, Australia, Macau and the United States - may need to have voting centres. Alatas cautioned that a vote might need to be staggered over several days to lessen the chance of violence.

Ramos Horta, meanwhile, worried that more than 100,000 Indonesian settlers now living in East Timor could be allowed to vote, although Annan has asserted that the ''consultation process'' - as the vote has been dubbed - will only take place among native East Timorese.

The fate of jailed Timorese pro-independence leader Xanana Gusmao also remains murky. Alatas said Friday that ''Xanana Gusmao will be released as part and parcel of the overall solution'' - but so far, there has been no date set for his release from house arrest in Jakarta.

Amid the confusion, one thing has been surprisingly clear: Few diplomats or analysts even commented on the Indonesian-approved autonomy plan, which grants Timorese authority over most governance outside of military and foreign affairs and monetary policy.

Ramos Horta claimed that in any case, the autonomy proposals would be widely rejected by Timorese voters.

''Since nobody expects it to be approved, it doesn't matter what it says,'' said Charles Scheiner, national coordinator of the US-based East Timor Action Network, a pro-independence group. (END/IPS/fah/mk/99)

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