Subject: AFP - Confusion over Indonesia's true intentions towards East Timor
From: "Paula" <>

Confusion over Indonesia's true intentions towards East Timor

JAKARTA, Feb 5 (AFP) - A week after Indonesia's unexpected about-face on the future of East Timor, questions still remain on the true intentions of the government towards the territory it calls its 27th province.

The announcement that Jakarta would propose full independence for the former Portuguese colony if an offer of autonomy is turned down took everyone by surprise, including the government's own foreign ministry.

"One hour after the announcement, nobody at the ministry was in a position to say what it meant," a senior Asian diplomat told AFP.

The speed of events following more than two decades of seemingly intractable conflict also took many unawares.

East Timor, invaded by Indonesia in 1975 and annexed a year later, could be independent "from the year 2000," said an adviser to President B.J. Habibie.

The usually eloquent Foreign Minister, Ali Alatas, was for once caught on the hop as he first said independence remained only a long-term option, before clarifying that the Indonesian proposal might have been "misunderstood."

Alatas said on Thursday after a meeting with Habibie that a model for autonomy would be completed "by April at the latest."

He said the package would then be "put on the table" for the East Timorese to accept or reject. If it was turned down, a proposal for full independence would be made to a newly elected Indonesian legislature later this year.

Alatas will meet with his Portuguese counterpart Jaime Gama and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan for talks in New York at the weekend to explain Indonesia's offer.

Annan, however, is in no doubt that "the question of independence is on the table" and a plan for East Timor's secession will be brought up at the talks.

One of the biggest uncertainties is how the people of East Timor will make their views known on the offer of autonomy.

The government is opposed to a referendum, warning it could "lead to civil war," and prefers various forms of consultation with East Timorese leaders.

Habibie on Thursday hinted that East Timorese would be able to express acceptance or rejection of autonomy through their representatives in the new national legislature set to be elected on June 7.

But Western diplomats ridiculed the idea, saying there was every indication the East Timorese would turn their back on the legislature poll because they do not consider themselves part of Indonesia.

Within the territory, the government's surprise announcement has increased tensions between separatists and those -- including Indonesian militias and civil servants -- who want to maintain links with Jakarta.

Despite the denials of armed forces chief General Wiranto, observers say the army has been arming pro-Indonesian militiamen in East Timor since the beginning of the 1990s and this has increased over the past week.

At least 400 weapons were distributed in the East Timorese capital Dili on Thursday alone, according to humanitarian aid workers there.

And, despite the declarations of Wiranto, there is little sign of the army pulling out of the territory.

A high-ranking officer in the East Timor military command told a Western ambassador this week that "independence is not really an option."

"In all likelihood it is just a misunderstanding that will be cleared up soon," the ambassador quoted him as saying.

©AFP 1999

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