|Subject: AFP: Australia's Downer warns of
"enormous risks" in East Timor vote
Date: Sun, 01 Aug 1999 11:33:44 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <email@example.com>
Received from Joyo Indonesian News:
Australia's Downer warns of "enormous risks" in East Timor vote
DILI, East Timor, July 30 (AFP) - Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer warned Friday of "enormous risks" in next month's autonomy vote in East Timor, saying Indonesia's international reputation was at stake.
"There is a long way to go, there are enormous risks ahead," Downer told journalists during a 24-hour visit here, the first ever by an Australian minister.
"There has been so much violence for so long," Downer added, referring to years of bitter fighting and some 200,000 deaths following the Indonesian invasion of the former Portuguese colony in 1975.
But Downer said he had "more optimism that the ballot is going to go ahead than I did two months ago."
"Our expectation is that the TNI (Indonesian armed forces) will start to behave in a more neutral way and there are some signs of improvement," he said.
"I think the Indonesian government in Jakarta knows that the eyes of the world are on this exercise and I think that they know that Indonesia's reputation is at stake," he added.
"If the UN ballot works, it will do a tremendous amount for Indonesia's reputation -- if it fails it will be an enormous setback."
Downer also reiterated his fears that the limbo period known as Phase Two -- between the vote scheduled for August 30 and November, when Indonesia will either accept or reject the outcome -- could turn violent.
Timorese will vote on whether to accept or reject an Indonesian offer of broad autonomy. Australia is supplying heavy logistical support and a substantial number of unarmed UN police advisers for the ballot.
Indonesian President B.J. Habibie has said Jakarta's seal of approval of the Timor ballot must come from the nation's highest legislative body when it meets in November. Habibie has previously suggested that East Timor may be offered independence if its people reject autonomy.
Under an agreement signed by Portugal and Indonesia in May, Indonesian police are responsible for security before and after the ballot.
Downer said the police would remain responsible for security during Phase Two.
But he said he foresaw "an increase in the UNAMET (United Nations Mission in East Timor) unarmed civilian police presence," although discussions with the Indonesian government on Phase Two were "far from complete."
Downer, who arrived aboard a small Royal Australian Air Force executive jet from Bali early Friday, rushed through back-to-back meetings starting with East Timor governor Abilio Soares.
He then met UNAMET officials, dedicated the new Australian consulate in Dili -- the first foreign diplomatic office here -- and plunged into talks with pro- and anti-independence groups as well as with Nobel laureate Bishop Carlos Ximines Belo.
In the meeting with the pro-independence National Council of East Timorese Resistance in a small room above a shop-house, Downer said Canberra had asked Jakarta to release their jailed leader Xanana Gusmao.
"We believe that the return of Xanana would help contribute to the peaceful resolution of the East Timor question," he said.
Wearing a traditional East Timorese "Tais" or neckscarf, he urged the council leaders to think first of reconciliation with the other side -- whoever won or lost the ballot.
"I am prepared to say that it is more important than anything else that there be no retribution, no payback," he said.
"I think you can have a really great future -- and you have a friend in Australia -- for our part we will help the people of East Timor whichever way they vote."
Downer repeated similar comments in a meeting with the anti-independence grouping. But witnesses said the pro-Indonesian militia, blamed for much of the violence in East Timor, were absent.
He is scheduled to fly back to Australia early Saturday after visiting a cemetery near Dili for Australian soldiers killed in East Timor during World War II.