|Subject: AFP :Indon to allow "reasonable"
transition time for E. Timor: adviser
Date: Sat, 20 Feb 1999 08:56:02 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Received from Joyo:
*Indonesia to allow "reasonable" transition time for East Timor: adviser
JAKARTA, Feb 14 (AFP) - Indonesia will allow a "reasonable period of transition" if the people of East Timor opt for independence, a close adviser to President B.J. Habibie was quoted Sunday as saying.
"We don't want to be accused of being as irresponsible as Portugal which left East Timor in the lurch years ago," Indonesia's state Antara news agency quoted Dewi Fortuna Anwar as saying.
Anwar, speaking in an interview with Antara in the Australian capital Canberra, said she had conveyed that message to Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer on Thursday.
"Downer seemed rather surprised by the Indonesian decision and the latest statement (by Habibie)," Anwar said refering to Habibie's statement last week that he would like to see the East Timor issue settled by January 2000 when a new government takes office in Jakarta.
If it was up to the government, Indonesia would grant the former Portuguese colony independence, Habibie said.
Anwar said Canberra seemed "afraid East Timor will be a new burden on Australia which is already having to assist Papua New Guinea."
To Indonesia, letting East Timor go would be the "better alternative" because Jakarta would be relieved of a burden. Moreover the Cold War that had caused East Timor to "integrate with Indonesia" was now over, Antara quoted her as saying.
Anwar did not elaborate on how Indonesia would or could provide for the transition period, nor how long it might be.
Opposition leader and presidential hopeful Megawati Sukarnoputri, whose party could be involved in a post-election decision on whether to give East Timor its independence, said she was "surprised and saddened" by the government's proposal to let go of the territory.
"East Timor is equal with other provinces... and not a burden at all ... We are surprised and saddened," Megawati told a meeting of more than 100,000 of her supporters Sunday.
"I wonder what the substance of the government's statement is," said Megawati, chairwoman of the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle and a presidential hopeful.
The daughter of Indonesia's first president Sukarno charged that the independence offer was part of the government strategy of trying to "maintain the status quo" but did not elaborate.
Publication of the Anwar interview and Megawati's comments coincided with comments by Australian Prime Minister John Howard Sunday in which he said immediate independence for East Timor would impose a crushing financial burden on Australians.
He also said it could lead to a greater independence push in other Indonesian territories such as Irian Jaya. Canberra would prefer a period of autonomy for East Timor before it gained full independence.
"A quickly independent Timor would be very vulnerable and very weak, there will be a lot of pressure on Australia to provide a lot of help," he said on television.
Habibie's announcement last week that he wants Indonesia to be rid of East Timor by January next year has alarmed Howard, who fears a return to the civil war that preceded Indonesia's 1975 invasion.
He said Sunday Australians must be aware there would be a cost.
"We are dealing with a situation where if there were quick independence for Timor then we could well be expected by the bulk of the international community to carry the bulk of the aid," he said.
"We would be willing to play our part but I want the Australian people to understand that it could be quite expensive."
Foreign Minister Downer is to hold discussions on the disputed province with Habibie in Jakarta on February 25. Diplomats say he is also due to meet Megawati and a second presidential hopeful Amien Rais.
Indonesian troops invaded East Timor in 1975 in the vaccuum after Portugal withdrew from its former colony, and declared the territory its 27th province a year later in a move never recognized by the United Nations.