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Subject: RT: Portugal hopes for ``step-by-step'' Timor approach
Date: Thu, 23 Jul 1998 11:09:43 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <etan@etan.org>

Portugal hopes for ``step-by-step'' Timor approach By Richard Waddington

LISBON, July 22 (Reuters) - Portugal is hopeful Indonesia will agree a ``step-by-step'' approach over East Timor that may help to break an impasse over its future, diplomatic sources said on Wednesday.

A recent volley of declarations from Jakarta following the fall of President Suharto suggested a willingness to discuss intermediate moves that could lower the level of tension, they said.

Indonesia had previously refused to discuss anything that failed to recognise its sovereignty over Timor, the Pacific territory it annexed after a bloody invasion two decades ago.

Portuguese Foreign Minister Jaime Gama and his Indonesian counterpart Ali Alatas are due to meet in New York in the first week of August for their first talks in over a year.

The fact that the meeting, which follows a round of diplomacy by a special United Nations envoy, was taking place at all indicated some common ground had been found, the sources added.

``It (the contact) moves from ambassadorial to ministerial level when it is considered that there is something capable of generating a minimum level of accord,'' one diplomatic source noted.

Indonesia and Portugal, the former colonial ruler in East Timor, had staged a series of fruitless meetings for years until a change of tack was agreed in June 1997.

Following the naming of the U.N. representative for Timor, Jamsheed Marker, they dropped the bi-annual ministerial encounters in favour of more discreet, lower level contact.

Signs of a change in mood on East Timor have multiplied in Jakarta after Suharto's long rule was brought to an end in May by mounting economic and political pressure.

His successor B.J. Habibie has spoken of granting special status to East Timor, although his government continues to reject any talk of independence for the impoverished territory of some 800,000 people.

The Indonesian armed forces, which have effectively controlled the territory since the 1975 invasion, are accused by human rights organisations of a long string of abuses.

Rights groups estimate up to 200,000 people died in the invasion and as a result of hardship in subsequent years.

Portugal backs the call of the resistance movement in Timor, where a small guerrilla army is still active, for self-determination. It wants the mainly Roman Catholic population to vote on whether to be part of Moslem Indonesia.

Government officials say that self-determination for East Timor remains Portugal's final aim.

Lisbon has officially declined to comment on the series of suggestions coming out of Jakarta, saying it is waiting for the meeting with Alatas to get more detail.

But the diplomatic sources said that Lisbon had long favoured adopting a gradualist approach and that the ideas being put forward by Jakarta seemed to point in that direction.

``In order to unblock the issue, let's set aside the issues of independence, self-determination or integration in Indonesia,'' one source said.

``We want to leave such questions for the future...and we believe that the Indonesians now agree with us,'' he added.

One confidence-building measure that could be on the table when the two sides meet in New York -- either on August 4-5 or 5-6 -- is the opening of special interest sections in friendly embassies in their respective capitals.

Jakarta and Lisbon have no direct diplomatic relations.

Portugal had previously suggested the move, which was echoed recently by Jakarta, but it had set the freeing of resistance leader Xanana Gusmao as a condition.

However Gusmao, jailed in Jakarta since 1992, urged the two countries last week to go ahead with the exchange without waiting for his freedom.

``Portugal is ready to discuss at any moment, and particularly in New York, the opening of interest sections,'' the diplomatic source said.

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