Subject: RT: Australia to set up contact group on East Timor
Date: Thu, 25 Feb 1999 21:41:16 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Australia to set up contact group on East Timor 04:17 a.m. Feb 24, 1999 Eastern

DENPASAR, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Australia said on Wednesday it was approaching the United States, the European Union, Japan and other countries to set up a ``contact group'' to assist East Timor.

``We are now making contact with a number of countries to establish a contact group so that we can talk about the East Timor issue and perhaps coordinate some sort of assistance to East Timor,'' Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer told reporters at the biennial Indonesia-Australia Ministerial Forum.

In an abrupt U-turn, Indonesia said last month it may let East Timor go it alone if the East Timorese rejected an offer of special autonomy giving them more say over their own affairs.

The move raises the prospect of the impoverished territory on Australia's doorstep relying on foreign aid to survive, at least in the short term.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said on Monday that Jakarta, battling its worst economic crisis in three decades, would not be able to afford financial aid for an independent East Timor.

The international community established a contact group for Cambodia to help that country through the U.N.-sponsored peace process and elections in the early 1990s. The contact group also coordinated international aid.

Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony covering the eastern half of Timor island in 1975 and annexed it the following year in a move not recognised by the United Nations.

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