Subject: RT: Australian Ambassador meets Xanana
Date: Sat, 18 Jul 1998 12:39:34 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <etan@etan.org>

Australia sees ETimor guerrilla, but won't mediate 12:30 a.m. Jul 18, 1998 Eastern

CANBERRA, July 18 (Reuters) - Australia has made unprecedented contact with a jailed East Timor guerrilla leader, Xanana Gusmao.

But a government spokesman rejected talk of Australia mediating between the resistance movement and Indonesia, which invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975.

And Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer said Australian, one of the few countries that recognises Indonesia's annexation of East Timor, would not back calls for an immediate referendum on its future.

Australian Ambassador to Indonesia John McCarthy had met Xanana Gusmao about two weeks ago to hear his views on the situation in East Timor, Downer's office said on Saturday.

It was the first time an Australian official had met Gusmao, who was captured in 1992 and is now serving a 20-year sentence in a Jakarta jail for armed rebellion against Indonesian rule.

``John McCarthy, Australia's ambassador to Indonesia, met Xanana Gusmao just over two weeks ago, in his prison in Jakarta,'' a spokesman for Downer told Reuters.

The 70-minute meeting covered the situation in East Timor generally, but there was no mention of any role Australia would play in the territory's push for independence, the spokesman said.

``They had a long discussion about the situation there and how things could evolve in the future,'' the spokesman said.

The Age newspaper said the Australian government had started to play a mediating role over East Timor.

But Downer's spokesman said this was too strong a description and added that the ambassador had visited Gusmao only to meet him.

``Mediating is probably very much too strong a word. He just met Xanana to get his views basically,'' he said.

Resistance to Indonesia's rule in the territory has grown since President Suharto resigned in May.

Jakarta has said that it is willing to grant special status to East Timor giving it some autonomy from Indonesia, but that it will not consider independence for what it regards as its 27th province.

Downer has previously said that the resignation of Suharto, who was president in 1975, had opened a fresh opportunity to consider the annexation.

In an interview with The Age, Downer said Australia would not back calls for an immediate referendum to determine the future of East Timor.

He said that the East Timorese were divided on Indonesian rule, although he said there was probably more anti-integrationists than pro-integrationists.

``But if you have a referendum, the losers will just take to the hills. It wouldn't solve the problem,'' he told the paper.

Back to July Menu
Back to Main Postings Menu