Subject: AFP: US group slams Australian PM over East Timor remarks

Agence France Presse -- English

May 28, 2006 Sunday 1:19 AM GMT

US group slams Australian PM over East Timor remarks

WASHINGTON, May 27 2006

A US-based pressure group on Saturday warned Australia that its invited military intervention in East Timor to quell unrest did not entitle it to interfere in the country's government.

The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network said it was concerned about the situation in East Timor, where the government, with the stated support of rebel leaders, requested the deployment of foreign forces to stem escalating violence.

"Timor-Leste must find ways, with respectful support from the international community, to deal with problems in a manner that will not require troops," ETAN said.

"Statements by Australian government leaders that providing security assistance entitles them to influence over Timor-Leste's government are undemocratic, paternalistic, and unhelpful."

"Who governs Timor-Leste is a decision to be made by its people within its constitution," the nongovernmental organization (NGO) said in a statement.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard on Friday said that East Timor -- where Canberra has ordered 1,300 soldiers to be sent to help quell a military rebellion -- has a "significant governance problem."

"If things get out of control, and they clearly have, and outside help is needed, then those who provide the outside help are entitled to ask those who they are helping, 'Will you make sure that you run the country in future in a way that this doesn't allow this to happen,'" he said.

ETAN blamed Australia for much of the problems in the tiny fledgling country, which gained independence from Indonesia in 1999.

"Australia bears special responsibility for Timor's underdevelopment by refusing to return revenues, totaling billions of dollars, from the disputed petroleum fields in the Timor Sea, including Laminaria-Corallina, and by bullying Timor-Leste into forsaking revenues that should rightfully belong to it under current international law and practice," the NGO said.

"Australia should not view its current assistance to Timor-Leste as a favor, to be repaid, but instead as a partial repayment for the debt Australia owes the Timorese people for its help during WW (World War) II and for Australia's deep complicity in Indonesia's invasion and occupation."

The NGO's remarks echoed those of Portugal's foreign minister, Diogo Freitas de Amaral, who rapped the Australian prime minister for criticizing the authorities in East Timor, which Lisbon ruled for four centuries.

"We consider this an interference in the internal affairs of East Timor and ... we disagree with this kind of statement by foreign countries," said the Portuguese minister as new violence rocked the poverty-stricken country's capital Dili.

Portugal has ordered 120 troops to help put down the violence in East Timor, which Lisbon turned over to Indonesia in 1975.

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