Subject: JP: Unfinished business haunts Indonesia-East Timor ties

- Unfinished business haunts Indonesia-East Timor ties

The Jakarta Post May 21, 2002

Unfinished business haunts Indonesia-East Timor ties

Aboeprijadi Santoso and Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Dili/Kupang

Despite reconciliatory gestures from their leaders, the future of ties between Indonesia and its new neighbor East Timor hangs in the balance due to a legacy of wide-ranging unfinished business.

Not only do the assets of the Indonesian government and individuals need addressing, the incomplete repatriation of thousands of East Timorese from their refugee camps in East Nusa Tenggara, border security and the much-awaited results of the ongoing trial of Indonesian military, police and civilian officials for their alleged involvement in the East Timor mayhem in 1999 will serve as a thorn in the flesh as the two states attempt to develop good relations.

A series of meetings between representatives of the Indonesian and East Timorese administrations had failed to reach any conclusion as of Sunday's declaration of East Timor's independence.

In Dili, some observers and officials speculated that Jakarta would not ask for compensation for Indonesia's assets in the new country precisely because Jakarta wanted to avoid a demand for war reparations.

Asked about this, an East Timorese foreign affairs official who requested anonymity asked, "What does Indonesia really want from us?"

Another diplomat said, "Look we have lost thousands of our brothers and sisters and then we get a legacy of a country without infrastructure.

"If they push for compensation for Indonesia's assets, we might as well demand for war reparations. We don't want to ask for anything, so let's both start from scratch."

It is however possible, they said, that the issue may be raised as a form of leverage to push for a war crimes tribunal for Indonesian generals allegedly involved in the 1999 violence.

East Timor President Xanana Gusmao avoids the issue diplomatically by expressing his philosophy when confronted with the issue.

"The (Indonesian assets) issue is being handled by UNTAET," he said, referring to the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor, whose service has been handed over to the UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET).

During 24 years of Indonesian administration, more than 2,000 kilometers of road, 60 schools, 10 hospitals, hundreds of community health clinics and clean water facilities in 13 towns were built.

Regardless of the political motives behind the special treatment of the former province, the development had boosted the living standards of East Timorese until the pro-Jakarta militias wreaked havoc under the eyes of the Indonesian Military (TNI) in the aftermath of the independence vote in September 1999. Over 200,000 people sought refuge to neighboring East Nusa Tenggara.

Much of the new country's infrastructure is in ruins as a result of the violence.

A recent UN report revealed that more than 40 percent of East Timor's 740,000 citizens live below the national poverty line of US$0.55 cents per day, half the population is illiterate, life expectancy is 57 years of age, very few people have received more than elementary education and over half of all infants are underweight.

Only a part of the refugee problem has been dealt with as some 60,000 East Timorese are still in refugee camps across East Nusa Tenggara. The Indonesian government has again delayed the closure of the camps to the end of the year following an agreement with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The cash-strapped Indonesian government has cut off its special budget allocation for the refugees, who have been told to return home or move to resettlement areas as Indonesian citizens.

Talks on assets will highlight the upcoming but so far undated visit of Gusmao to Jakarta.

Kristiyo Wahyono, Indonesia's current representative in Dili, said Gusmao was expected to raise various bilateral issues which were not adequately addressed by UNTAET.

On his visit, Gusmao will be accompanied by Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri and Minister of Foreign Affairs Jose Ramos Horta.

The House of Representatives will also seek clarification from the government over the issue of Indonesian assets in the tiny, new state.

Chairman of House Commission I on security and political affairs Ibrahim Ambong said Minister/State Secretary Bambang Kesowo and Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda would be summoned to speak on the government's behalf over the matter.

Ambong also disclosed that the House had received many letters from former pro-integration East Timorese leaders who had become Indonesian citizens, demanding that the government pay proper attention to their plight.

"The House will also ask the government to improve the welfare of Indonesian veterans of East Timor's integration and the widows of servicemen who died in the line of duty in East Timor," Ambong said.

Meanwhile, in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara, former Indonesian foreign minister Ali Alatas said that with East Timor's independence, Indonesia could no longer claim a part of the oil-rich Timor Gap.

"Indonesia no longer has the right to claim a part of the gap, and it is unlikely to ask Australia to review the memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the Timor Gap," he said.

He added that the important thing was to discuss maritime border demarcation between the three countries so as to avoid any problems in the future.

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