Subject: IHT- Interview with Ali Alatas on E. Timor
From: "Paula" <paularoque@mail.telepac.pt>

Received from Joy: Paris, Wednesday, February 3, 1999

Jakarta Goal for East Timor: Autonomy

Q & A /Ali Alatas, Foreign Minister
By Robert Kroon International Herald Tribune

In a surprise move, the Indonesian government said last week it was ready to pull out of East Timor if no better solution could be found for the former Portuguese colony it annexed in 1976. Indonesia's foreign minister, Ali Alatas, discussed the issue with Robert Kroon of the International Herald Tribune. -

Q. You have always referred to East Timor as the ''pebble in the Indonesian shoe.'' Are you now ready to remove that pebble once and for all and accept independence for East Timor?

A. There is some misinterpretation here. Indonesia does not intend to discard East Timor just like that. For the past several weeks, we have been talking at UN headquarters in New York with Portugal about the territory's future, under the auspices of Secretary-General Kofi Annan. East Timorese representatives, both here and abroad, are also being consulted.

What we have in mind is very wide-ranging autonomy for the territory, and right now we are trying to fill in the details to make this meaningful for all concerned. It involves security matters, the economy, political ramifications and cultural affairs. I'll be back in New York in a few weeks to take stock of negotiations.

Q. Is the Fretilin leader Xanana Gusmao, who is serving a 20-year sentence in Jakarta for sedition, also taking part?

A. Yes, Xanana Gusmao is part of the process. He will be released from Cipinang prison this week and moved to a private house.

Q. What would be the relationship between East Timor and Jakarta in the construction you have in mind?

A. Granting far-reaching autonomy to East Timor would be unprecedented in Indonesian history, but there are many examples in other countries. The self- rule status now being proposed for Kosovo is a case in point.

Q. Self-rule, wide-ranging or not, still falls short of total independence.

A. That's right, but it is the best solution. If we cannot agree on an autonomous status with the parties by April, the only alternative may be abandoning East Timor altogether. That doesn't mean we will pack up in anger. We will hand the problem back to the people.

Q. What does that mean?

A. Well, by April, Indonesia will move into general elections for the Peoples' Consultative Assembly. East Timor will also elect its representatives, and if they opt for independence, so be it.

Q. Ramos Horta, East Timor's representative-at-large, and Xanana Gusmao have always insisted on a referendum so the people can decide their own future. Is that acceptable to Indonesia now?

A. No. A referendum is a recipe for civil conflict. Already now there is fighting between pro- and anti-independence factions, and we don't want to be stuck with this problem for another couple of years.

Q. You have long argued that a poor ministate of 800,000 people is not viable. If you dump East Timor, wouldn't you just hand another basket case to the international community?

A. I don't want to go into that now. Anyway, Ramos Horta doesn't agree with that point of view. We are not dumping East Timor, and that's why we think wide-ranging autonomy is by far the most realistic, rational and viable formula for a peaceful solution.

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