Subject: Army chief tells Indonesians to forget the past with East Timor

Army chief tells Indonesians to forget the past with East Timor

JAKARTA (AFP-May 4, 2002) - Indonesia's army chief has urged his countrymen to forget their traumatic past with East Timor and embrace its sovereignty, amid lingering bitterness about the territory's breakaway.

"I want to acknowledge the reality that East Timor has been established as a nation, and it cannot be denied," General Endriartono Sutarto was quoted as saying by the state Antara news agency Saturday.

"We must look to the future with East Timor as our neighbour. We should be capable of forgetting the past, and looking towards a better future," Sutarto said.

There has been opposition from Indonesian legislators to President Megawati Sukarnoputri's attendance at the declaration of East Timor's independence in just over two weeks.

Lingering bitterness among MPs over the loss of what they considered their 27th province has prompted many to vehemently oppose her presence at the landmark ceremony.

The MPs also say there are unresolved issues with East Timor, such as the fate of Indonesian assets left behind in 1999 and the graves of Indonesian soldiers who died in battle there, as well as domestic sensitivities to the loss of the territory.

The impoverished half-island territory will finally be declared independent by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in a massive fireworks ceremony at midnight on May 19-20, 32 months after its people opted to end Indonesia's brutal 24-year rule in a United Nations-sponsored ballot.

The August 1999 vote triggered an orgy of Indonesian army-backed militia violence and destruction, which saw hundreds of independence supporters killed, more than a quarter of a million East Timorese forced or led into Indonesian-ruled West Timor, and 80 percent of infrastructure annihilated.

Senior military officers are accused of masterminding the violence and designing a scorched-earth campaign to raze the territory. It is still struggling to recover from the comprehensive destruction.

The UN has been rebuilding East Timor since October 1999 and shepherding it to independence.

Sutarto's comments coincided with East Timor president-elect Xanana Gusmao's first visit to Indonesia since he was voted in with a landslide on April 14.

The former guerrilla leader of the resistance to Indonesian rule came to personally invite Megawati to the landmark independence ceremony, which will mark East Timor's birth as the world's newest nation after almost five centuries of outside rule.

Sutarto stopped short of commenting on whether Megawati should accept the invitation to attend the independence ceremony.

But military spokesman Syafire Syamsuddin told AFP that the military would accept whatever decision the government takes, and provide security for Megawati if she travels to Dili, Syamsuddin added.

Megawati has yet to officially comment on whether she will travel to East Timor, but senior ministers have said she will go.

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