Subject: Megawati Acknowledges East Timor's Independence

Also: E Timor Welcomes Megawati's Independence Acknowledgement

Associated Press 
August 16, 2001

Indonesia Megawati Acknowledges East Timor's Independence

JAKARTA (AP)--Staunch nationalist President Megawati Sukarnoputri said Thursday she respected East Timor's right to secede from Indonesia and apologized for past atrocities in two restive provinces.

It was the first time for Megawati - who had opposed East Timor's independence - to publicly acknowledged East Timor's right to self determination.

"We openly respect our brothers' choice to live in their own state," she told the national assembly as part of her first state of the nation speech.

Hundreds of people were killed and much of East Timor's infrastructure destroyed when Indonesia's army and its militia proxies went on a rampage after a U.N.-sponsored independence referendum in 1999.

Megawati's comments will go a long way to strengthening fragile ties between the two neighbors and may help end violent raids into East Timor from Indonesia by paramilitaries opposed to East Timor's independence.

Megawati said her government would work hard to end a protracted refugee crisis in Indonesian-controlled West Timor.

An estimated 50,000 East Timorese are still sheltering in camps in the region, after fleeing the post-ballot violence in 1999.

Megawati's predecessor, Abdurrahman Wahid, had promoted closer ties with East Timor, once a Portuguese colony. He even visited the region last year, only months after it seceded from Indonesia.

When he was ousted last month and Megawati replaced him, East Timorese leaders expressed concern that relations with Jakarta could sour.

Megawati campaigned against East Timor's independence in 1999. She toured the territory before the referendum, appealing to people to vote against secession.

In the past two years she has also forged close ties with several military commanders who human rights activists have accused of being responsible for the violence. That has raised fears they won't be brought to justice.

In her speech Thursday, however, Megawati promised to take legal action against anyone proven guilty of atrocities.

She also apologized for human rights abuses in Indonesia's Aceh and Irian Jaya provinces, where separatists have waged a long and bloody secession campaign that has been met with sometimes brutal resistance by Indonesia's military.

However, she said she would never allow the two regions on opposite ends of the sprawling archipelago to break away.

"Aceh and Irian Jaya are completely different to East Timor," she said. "These problems are internal."


Associated Press 
August 17, 2001

E Timor Welcomes Megawati's Independence Acknowledgement

DILI, East Timor (AP)--Political leaders and U.N. administrators Friday hailed Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri's acknowledgement of East Timor's independence and said they were encouraged by her commitment to human rights.

On Thursday, Megawati said she respected East Timor's right to secede from Indonesia in her first state of the nation speech in Jakarta.

East Timorese Nobel laureate Jose Ramos Horta praised Megawati for saying the territory had the right to self determination.

Horta said he was also encouraged by Megawati's promise to bring to trial anyone proven guilty of human rights abuse.

The Indonesia's army and pro-Jakarta militiamen went on a rampage killing hundreds of people and destroying much of the infrastructure after the East Timorese voted to break away from Indonesia in a U.N.-sponsored referendum in 1999.

"I am pleased with all the statements she has made in regard to the human rights tribunal to be set up in Indonesia," he said.

U.N. administrator, Sergio Vieira de Mello, described Megawati's statement as courageous.

"I applaud her wisdom and this shows she is a stateswoman, which is what Indonesia and East Timor need," he told reporters in the capital Dili.

Human rights activists have expressed concern that Megawati's close ties with members of the military accused of human rights abuses in East Timor could hamper human rights tribunal.

Preparations for the territory's first democratic election on Aug. 30 continue with only a few cases of voter intimidation.

Three hundred East Timorese soldiers and more than 800 local police have joined U.N. police and military to boost security during the vote, said de Mello.

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