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Indonesia might grant special status to East Timor

Date: Wed, 10 Jun 1998 06:15:31 +0000
From: "ETISC" <etiscaus@downunder.net.au>

Indonesia might grant special status to East Timor

June 9, 1998 Web posted at: 3:39 p.m. EDT (1939 GMT)

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) -- Indonesian President B.J. Habibie said Tuesday he's ready to grant special status within Indonesia to East Timor in exchange for peace in the disputed territory.

In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. Habibie said he had also signed a decree to release 10 Timorese fighters jailed by Indonesia, which invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975.

But Habibie made it clear that imprisoned East Timorese rebel leader Xanana Gusmao would remain behind bars.

East Timorese activists contacted by The Associated Press said Habibie's gesture is not enough for them to end their long-running guerrilla war against Indonesian rule.

Nevertheless Habibie's comments appear to be a significant change in policy toward East Timor following the resignation last month of President Suharto, who steadfastly refused to make any concessions.

It's not clear what form the East Timor's special status might take, although it is certain to fall short of a self- determination referendum demanded by separatists.

Would remain part of Indonesia

In the interview, Habibie said East Timor would remain an integrated part of Indonesia and special status would not lead to political autonomy.

"If you want to discuss it in that direction, there is no way you can discuss that with me. No, we will not let that happen," he said of autonomy or independence for East Timor.

A presidential aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that mainly Muslim Indonesia would grant some form of recognition to the territory's culture and Roman Catholic religion.

Other parts of Indonesia with special status include the capital Jakarta, the deeply Muslim province of Aceh in north Sumatra Island and the sultanate of Yogyakarta in Central Java. Their local governments enjoy a few, most symbolic, privileges and powers.

East Timor leader says offer not enough

East Timor leader Jose Ramos-Horta, the co-winner of the 1996 Nobel peace prize, rejected Habibie's offer as ambiguous and arrogant after 25 years of annexation and human rights abuse.

"I don't think it will satisfy the people of East Timor," he told the BBC. "Our demand, which is very basic, is that the people of East Timor be given the right, the opportunity, to express their views about their own future through a referendum under U.N. supervision," Horta said.

In Dili, Bishop Carlos Belo, who won the peace prize in partnership with Horta, refused to comment.

Horta welcomed the planned released of 10 Timorese prisoners, but added that all should be freed, including Gusmao.

Indonesia regards Gusmao as a criminal, saying he has committed violent acts in his fight against Indonesian rule. Gusmao is currently serving a 20-year prison term in Jakarta's Cipinang Prison.

Fernando Araujo, an East Timorese activist and former political prisoner who is in regular contact with Gusmao, said the withdrawal of Indonesia troops and the release of Gusmao were basic demands for any peaceful solution.

"If Habibie won't release Xanana, we will continue fight and die for the independence of our country all out," Araujo said.

Indonesian troops invaded in 1975

Indonesian troops, under Suharto's orders, invaded the former East Timor in 1975 after the Portuguese withdrew, continuing 400 years of colonial rule.

In 1976 Suharto declared East Timor the 27th province of Indonesia -- an act not recognized by the United Nations. The U.N. has been sponsoring talks between Indonesia and Portugal over the territory's future, but with little progress.

Under Suharto, Indonesia steadfastly refused to consider the granting any special status or any form of local autonomy to East Timor.

Last week U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrote to Habibie asking that Gusmao be released.

Earlier on Tuesday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said Suharto's departure from politics has provided an opportunity for Portugal, East Timorese separatists and Indonesia to resolve conflicts over the disputed territory.

"I think now is a good time to resolve our disagreement under the auspices of the United Nations secretary general who has taken the initiative over the years," Alatas said.

In the past, Alatas has accused Portugal and the East Timorese separatists, led by Horta, of being inflexible.

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