Subject: SMH: Indon air force to fly East Timorese refugees home

Sydney Morning Herald Monday, November 15, 1999

Air force to fly East Timorese refugees home


Indonesia's President, Mr Abdurrahman Wahid, has told the United States President, Mr Bill Clinton, he will order Indonesia's air force to fly East Timorese refugees home from West Timor, where human rights groups allege many are being intimidated and abused by militias.

Mr Wahid met for an hour with Mr Clinton, who said the US was willing to open talks aimed at resuming military ties between the two nations.

The US severed military links after Indonesian soldiers were accused of orchestrating the violence that followed East Timor's overwhelming vote for independence.

Mr Clinton pledged to support Indonesia's transition to democracy and its economic reforms.

He praised Mr Wahid, who was elected last month in the most democratic balloting seen in Indonesia, and said his election would lead to efforts ''to strengthen our relationship, including the issue of military-to-military ties''.

After his meeting with Mr Clinton, Mr Wahid flew to Salt Lake City for eye surgery.

US Administration officials said Mr Clinton urged Mr Wahid to follow through on his commitment to return refugees from East Timor, where violence broke out in early September after people voted overwhelmingly for independence.

More than 200,000 East Timorese refugees are believed to still be in in Indonesian-controlled West Timor, many of them intimidated by militias backed by the Indonesian military.

''I assure President Clinton ... that in East Timor we will work very hard to ensure that the refugees from our side of Timor will go freely to their places,'' Mr Wahid said after the meeting.

He repeated that his Government would stick to the rule of law and determine whether former president Soeharto, widely believed to have plundered billions of dollars for himself and his family in more than 30 years of rule, is guilty.

But in a nod to the Indonesian military where Mr Soeharto had substantial support, Mr Wahid also repeated that he would pardon Mr Soeharto if he was found guilty.

''Mr Soeharto still has big followers, so we have to be careful not to, let's say, topple the cart,'' he said.

Mr Wahid assured Mr Clinton as well as officials he saw separately from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank that he would clamp down on corruption.

He also said he would allow a referendum in the northern province of Aceh, where up to a million people rallied last week for independence.

It remained unclear, however, whether Mr Wahid would allow the referendum to be about independence or merely greater autonomy.

He said he would negotiate to make sure any referendum could be held peacefully and fairly, but added: ''I think we can resolve that in the next few months.''

Indonesia's Attorney-General said yesterday that he had been asked by Mr Wahid to investigate corruption allegations involving three ministers.

Mr Marzuki Darusman declined to name the ministers and said he was ''still investigating the cases''.

- The Washington Post, New York Times and agencies

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