Subject: FT: E Timor negotiations delayed; setback may be victory for hardliners
Date: Fri, 12 Mar 1999 18:27:21 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <fbp@igc.apc.org>

Financial Times [UK] March 9 1999

*E Timor negotiations delayed

Setback may be victory for hardliners

By Sander Thoenes in Dili, East Timor, Michael Littlejohns in New York and Peter Wise in Lisbon

Indonesia yesterday announced it would delay by six weeks negotiations on the status of East Timor, the Portuguese colony whose annexation by Jakarta in 1975 has never been recognised by the United Nations. The move was interpreted by diplomats as possible backtracking and a victory for hardliners in the government.

Ali Alatas, the foreign minister, said Indonesia would only detail its double offer of autonomy or independence for East Timor, first proposed in January, by late April rather than at a high-profile meeting with Portuguese representatives tomorrow.

Mr Alatas said he would still go to New York for the talks, sponsored by the United Nations, but only to explain that the proposal needed to be reviewed by the Indonesian cabinet first.

Head of the review committee will be Feisal Tanjung, co-ordinating minister for security, former chief commander of the armed forces and considered the most conservative member of the cabinet.

"This is a disappointment," said one western diplomat. "Until now the tone has been set by a group of liberal advisers to President B.J. Habibie. They just lost control."

In New York, United Nations officials expressed concern at the delay. One said the UN had been expecting Mr Alatas to arrive with "an autonomy plan in his pocket".

In Portugal, analysts said that the situation seemed to be moving backwards away from a resolution.

Mr Habibie's deadline for settling East Timor's status before the end of the year, and hints that he was happy to wash his hands of it, had raised concern that Indonesia would just walk out and leave East Timor in chaos.

Diplomats said Mr Habibie now appeared to be swinging in the opposite direction and could be about to withdraw his offer of independence.

Talks may be set back by more than six weeks either way, as the United Nations and Portugal have prepared a stance on the assumption that Indonesia wanted a speedy transition.

In East Timor few people had heard of the delay yesterday but Rui Lourensco da Costa, a Timorese human rights activist, accused the Indonesian government and its military of creating excuses for such a postponement by orchestrating clashes between proponents and opponents of independence. A string of recent killings has sparked an exodus of non-Timorese residents.

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