Subject: RT: Belo warns against rushing independence
Date: Sat, 20 Feb 1999 09:00:37 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <>

E.Timor's Belo warns against rushing independence 12:18 a.m. Feb 16, 1999 Eastern

By Wendy Pugh

MELBOURNE, Feb 16 (Reuters) - Nobel peace prize laureate East Timorese Bishop Carlos Belo on Tuesday warned against a rush to independence for Indonesia's troubled province.

``There should be some transitional period, mainly for reconciliation among the Timorese groups,'' Belo said.

Belo said he favoured autonomy as an interim step and was against an immediate referendum for the East Timorese to vote on the independence issue.

``We must prepare the people since we have different, opposite groups -- those liking independence; those liking integration,'' said Belo, after launching the Catholic Church of Australia Project Compassion appeal in Melbourne.

``It is better to give time and let the United Nations have talks in New York. Later we can organise it,'' said Belo, who is on a three-week visit to Australia.

Belo said the lack of resources and infrastructure were barriers to quickly achieving independence and it would take time to dismantle Indonesian structures governing the province.

Belo gave no estimate on the eventual timing of independence and said ultimately it would be up to the people of East Timor.

``Independence or not independence is the right of the people to say,'' Belo said at a news conference.

Tensions between those for and against Indonesian rule of the former Portuguese territory have increased recently, prompting fears of a civil war if Indonesian withdrew rapidly. ``We think that on the ground things are getting worse,'' Belo said.

Belo said it was hoped the future of East Timor could be resolved without foreign military intervention, but if a peacekeeping force was necessary it should be under the auspices of the United Nations.

The possible timing of any peacekeeping force would depend on talks between Portugal and Indonesia in March, he said.

Indonesian President B.J. Habibie last month said he was prepared to offer independence to East Timor, reversing his country's previous policy.

Indonesia has said it would prefer the territory to choose autonomy, but if that was rejected would look at full independence.

Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 and annexed it the following year in a move not recognised by the United Nations.

Belo and Timorese activist Jose Ramos-Horta were jointly awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1996 for their work towards peace in East Timor.

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