|Subject: ffitz - IPS - Violence in E.Timor
Overshadows Progress on Autonomy
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*East Timor: Violence Overshadows Progress on Autonomy
By Farhan Haq
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 7 (IPS) - U.N. plans to reach an agreement between Portugal and Indonesia on the future status of East Timor picked up steam this week, but the threat of violence on the ground in East Timor is sparking concerns about the state's future if Indonesia departs.
Timorese activists who oppose Indonesia's forcible 1976 annexation of the former Portuguese colony have been cheered by news that the talks underway at the United Nations could pave the way for East Timor's eventual independence.
Yet at the same time, they are afraid that a quick Indonesian withdrawal could lead to a recurrence of the violence after Portugal left in 1975, when Indonesia invaded and some 200,000 Timorese died.
Joao Carrascalao, president of the Union of Democratic Timorese and a member of the pro-independence National Council of Timorese Resistance, warned Friday that Indonesia has helped to arm anti- independence civilians and has set ''an atmosphere that will be conducive to violence in East Timor''.
''What is going to happen is a massacre of the civilian population again,'' he argued. ''We urge the United Nations to send observers to East Timor, and that is a matter of urgency.''
Constancio Pinto, UN spokesman for the National Council, contended that Jakarta has distributed some 10,000 guns to its supporters in East Timor in recent days. ''Indonesia in fact is trying to create another civil war,'' he said.
One Timorese human rights group, Yayasan Hak, estimated that in the last two months alone, 21 people have been killed, 17 detained and tortured, six disappeared and 7,608 forced to leave their homes following a rise in armed violence.
On Friday, a BBC report cited one paramilitary commander, Kansio Lopez, as saying that he received 20 Chinese-made rifles from the Indonesian army to use in attacks on civilians. General Wiranto, commander of Indonesia's armed forces, this week denied any efforts by Jakarta to arm civilian militias in East Timor.
Ambassador Jamsheed Marker, who is chairing the current UN talks between Indonesia and Portugal, agreed that ''we're rather concerned at the deteriorating law and order situation'' and added that both pro- and anti- independence Timorese have received arms.
''I raised these concerns with the Indonesian government,'' he said, adding that he favours disarmament of fighters on the island state.
The violence threat is looming even as Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas and his Portuguese counterpart, Jaime Gama, prepare to arrive Sunday to discuss the latest autonomy plan with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. SJAAMVD MVDTECN .ROMAWAS OT SUNDAY FILE(2-E)
Although the details of the plan, worked out over the past week in discussions chaired by Marker, have not been disclosed, sources told IPS that it allows for a substantial autonomy for East Timor which could be the first phase of its gradual independence.
Under the plan, Marker said, East Timorese officials would control most governance matters except for foreign affairs and defense, and some financial affairs. Yet an autonomous East Timor could even have the freedom to join international associations like the union of Lusaphone nations, he added.
Alatas is expected to clarify next week whether the autonomy plan on the table represents a first step toward independence or is a final offer, and whether there will be any mechanism - such as a referendum - to test its acceptance by the Timorese people.
Pinto said that autonomy can be accepted as a phase towards independence, lasting no more than five years, but could not be a ''final solution'' to the Timorese question. ''Sixty-nine percent of the people have indicated that they support independence for East Timor,'' added Carrascalao. ''Autonomy is not accepted.''
Yet Timorese leaders are aware of the need to maintain peace between the pro- and anti-independence elements as the UN process pushes ahead. Jose Ramos Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and longtime pro-independence activist, pleaded for all Timorese to respond with calm and tolerance as the current talks on autonomy and possible independence unfold.
''In the event of Indonesia wishing to leave without taking responsibility for a transition period, the East Timorese people need not panic,'' Ramos Horta said Friday. ''We can invite the United Nations to take responsibility for a period, which could be a minimum of three years, and may be extended according to need.''
Any plan to deploy UN peacekeepers or observers, however, depends on Jakarta's acceptance, Marker noted. The current Indonesian government of President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie last month indicated for the first time that it might consider independence for East Timor if autonomy is unacceptable - but it has yet to bring up any referendum on Timor's status, let alone any long- term UN presence.
That may change now that Indonesian and Portuguese mediators have outlined a draft autonomy plan for East Timor. Alatas and Gama next week will discuss the plan with Annan, during which time Indonesia's views on autonomy can be clarified. The United Nations, meanwhile, is expected to push for some disarmament of the two sides as soon as possible.
''We have now arrived at an understanding, as far as we can go,'' Marker argued. ''It is as if a curtain has come down on Act One of our negotiations, and is about to be raised for Act Two.'' (END/IPS/fah/99)