Subject: RT: Australia welcomes U.N. talks on East Timor
Date: Thu, 06 Aug 1998 09:40:08 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Australia welcomes U.N. talks on East Timor 04:36 a.m. Aug 06, 1998 Eastern
CANBERRA, Aug 6 (Reuters) - Australia on Thursday welcomed news that Portugal and Indonesia would hold U.N.-sponsored talks over autonomy for the Indonesian-occupied territory of East Timor.
But Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer said he would not back calls by East Timorese resistance leader and Nobel Peace laureate Jose Ramos Horta for Indonesia to release jailed independence leader Xanana Gusmao before the talks can occur.
Downer also reiterated that he did not favour a referendum on Timorese independence, as called by Horta, saying it could lead to civil war.
``If you just had a referendum in East Timor you would leave the losers of that referendum completely alienated. And I think there would be a risk...that the result would only lead to renewed fighting and civil war,'' Downer told reporters.
Following talks between Indonesian and Portuguese foreign ministers and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York, the two countries agreed on Wednesday to work towards breaking the long-standing deadlock over East Timor.
``There is a clear indication that both sides are willing to be flexible in their talks, with each agreeing to put aside points of principle to concentrate on substantive talks about autonomy in order to move the process along,'' Downer said.
East Timor was invaded by Indonesia in 1975 after Portugal, the former colonial power pulled out. Jakarta formally annexed it in 1976 but the United Nations has never recognised Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor, but Australia does.
Downer said Horta, who claimed talks over East Timors future would be ``unworkable'' without Gusmaos release and involvement, was just one important figure in the situation.
``There is a diversity of views...neither today or any other day am I going to come out and start backing one particular course of action or another,'' Downer said.
While Indonesia has released a number of prisoners since the resignation of President Suharto in May, it has said Gusmao is not a political prisoner but a criminal.
Gusmao, captured in 1992, is serving a 20-year sentence in a Jakarta prison.