|Subject: JP - Habibie rules out referendum in East
From: "Paula" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Jakarta Post Friday, March 5, 1999
*Habibie rules out referendum in East Timor
JAKARTA (JP): President B.J. Habibie ruled out on Thursday a referendum in East Timor as an option to decide on the future of the province, in spite of foreign and domestic pressures, including from many East Timorese. The latter insist that this should be pursued first before separation from Indonesia.
Indonesia would press ahead with its offer of special status with wide ranging autonomy for the province, but if this was not accepted, Habibie said he would turn to the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) for a decision on the future of East Timor
The MPR would then have to determine whether East Timor remained Indonesia's 27th province or not, he said.
"There is no other alternative ... a referendum cannot be held because East Timor became part of Indonesia not through a referendum, but through an MPR decree," he told reporters after meeting with House Speaker Harmoko at the Merdeka Palace.
He was elaborating on the government's new policy on East Timor which was first announced by Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Alatas last week.
This is the first indication that Indonesia is now prepared to let go of East Timor if current talks with Portugal at the United Nations on its special autonomy proposal break down.
While there appeared to be wide agreement on the special autonomy question, Indonesia said this must be a final solution. Portugal however insisted that the East Timorese must still be given the chance to determine whether to remain part of Indonesia or not through a referendum five or 10 years on.
The government would table its proposal for the MPR to decide in the assembly's next session in November, should the talks at the United Nations have failed.
Without making any direct reference to it, Habibie dispelled suggestions that the separation of East Timor could mark the start of the break up of the republic.
He said East Timor was different from the rest of the archipelago, having only been part of the republic for 22 years. "The other 26 provinces have been together for hundreds of years ... God willing, they are not likely to be separated because they have been united through their common aspirations."
He said the Armed Forces (ABRI) as the protectors of the people would abide by whatever the MPR decided on East Timor. "ABRI has lost 1,419 men in East Timor, but it has never fussed about this."
Habibie said the East Timorese would still take part in the general election slated for June since the territory would still be part of the republic at that time.
The East Timorese would still be represented in the MPR and they could put forward their aspirations when the future of their territory is determined by the assembly.
Minister Alatas earlier told reporters after meeting with Habibie that he would leave for New York on Friday for the latest round of UN-sponsored talks with his Portuguese counterpart on the future of East Timor.
Alatas said that besides pursuing special autonomy status, he would brief UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the Portuguese minister on Indonesia's latest option.
He said by April the two sides should complete the autonomy package or model that would be offered to the East Timorese.
On the question of a referendum, Alatas said, "The option is filled with dangers, and there is a greater risk that it would lead to a new civil war rather than providing a solution.
"Indonesia has rejected this option. That's why we have come up with our latest decision. We're saying that if our offer of special autonomy is rejected, we won't wait for five or 10 years, but will immediately propose separation. " (prb/emb)