Subject: East Timor policy is in nation's best interests: Habibie
Date: Sat, 25 Sep 1999 09:57:15 -0400

East Timor policy is in nation's best interests: Habibie

JAKARTA, Sept 21 (AFP) - Indonesian President B.J. Habibie said Tuesday his government's policy on East Timor was made with the best interests of the nation at heart as he answered his first summons from parliament.

He also urged the Indonesian people to accept the East Timorese vote for independence in the August 30 ballot, and said he hoped the country's national assembly would ratify the results.

"My intention is only one, that is that the settlement of the East Timor issue should not drag on, so that in overcoming the crisis and entering the third millennium, the Indonesian nation will already be in a condition that is free from international pressure," Habibie said.

Habibie was addressing a full plenary session of the People's Representative Council (DPR), the lower house, in reply to a summons sent by leaders of the parliament last week.

His statement was greeted by applause by the floor, which also observed a moment's silence to honor the Indonesians killed in and since the 1975 invasion of the former Portuguese colony.

"For the first time in the history of the Republic of Indonesia, a president is asked to give an explanation to the People's Representative Council about the policies taken by the government," Habibie said.

He said the "invitation" from the parliament and his appearance was a sign of the close cooperation between the government and the legislature.

Habibie said that as the official most responsible for the settlement of the East Timor issue, "in all humility, I will account for all policies taken in front of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR)."

The new MPR, the country's highest legislative body, will convene begining next month and will pick a new president for the next five years in November.

Under the law, a president has to account for his government's actions to the MPR at the end of his term.

Habibie has come under increasing criticism at home after in January offering East Timor independence if its people rejected a Indonesian offer of broad autonomy.

Criticism redoubled when he agreed to a UN-backed multinational force for East Timor to reestablish law and order there, despite the imposition of a martial law on September 7. The force began deploying on Monday.

Replying to a written question on East Timor attached to the summons sent to him, the president said the alternative to autonomy was not so much independence for East Timor, but a merely a return to the conditions in 1976, when it was a non-self-governing territory.

He reminded the parliament that even though East Timor was under Indonesian law legally incorporated into Indonesia through a decree of the MPR in 1976, the move "has not been recognised by the international community and the Portuguese constitution still includes East Timor as its territory."

"Because the people of East Timor, in line with their conscience, have expressed their desire to live by rejecting the offer for broad autonomy and special status, then as a nation, we should respect and accept that choice," Habibie said.

"Based on this, it is hoped that the People's Consultative Assembly which will hold its general assembly later, will accommodate the aspirations of the people of East Timor, in line with the values contained in our constitution," he said.

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