Subject: IPS: U.N. Mediates Autonomy Package for E. Timor
From: "John M. Miller" <fbp@igc.apc.org>

Received from Joyo:

U.N. Mediates Autonomy Package for East Timor

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 8 (IPS) - Indonesia and Portugal ended two days of talks Monday agreeing to a wide-ranging political package that would grant autonomy to the disputed territory of East Timor.

The package, negotiated under the supervision of UN Special Representative Jamsheed Marker, still must be approved by the two governments. Once this was done, the package would then be presented to the East Timorese people for their reaction but Indonesia wants this process to be completed through consultation, and not by any referendum.

''A referendum is not the way to proceed,''Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas told reporters. ''The inherent risks are such that we may not have the results we want to achieve.''

Under the proposed package, East Timor would be permitted to establish its own political system, including a parliament, and also hold elections.

Marker said he was not in a position to provide the text of the agreement as there were ''a few unresolved issues'' that requires consultation between the two governments. But he added that he was confident they were taking ''the right course of action.''

The next round of talks were due to take place here March 9-10.

If the East Timorese rejected the autonomy package, Alatas said the Indonesian government would ask his country's highest constitutional authority, the People's Consultative Assembly, to agree it would be best for Indonesia and East Timor ''to go our separate ways.''

Legally and jurdicially, East Timor would then return to its status as a non self-governing territory within the UN system with Portugal as the administering power. Indonesia invaded East Timor after Portugal left its colony in 1975, and annexed it the following year but suprised the international community last week with a sudden anonouncement that it intended pulling out of the disputed territory.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate and longtime independent activist Jose Ramos-Horta told reporters that any autonomy package offered by Indonesia should be preceded by the demilitarisation of East Timor and the withdrawal of Indonesian troops from the territory.

He also called for the disarming of paramilitary groups and other political factions, and the need to establish UN observer groups during an interim administration and until the territory is fully independent.

Ramos-Horta said the proposed autonomy package offered by the Indonesians has to be ''fair and democratic.'' ''Only then can we accept the autonomy plan and be part of it.''

Asked whether the question of a UN peacekeeping force was under consideration, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that it was ''too premature to talk of a United Nations force, but whatever the solution, the UN will have to participate and be involved.''

Annan also said that Indonesians had indicated to him that ''they were not arming the factions and that they will make sure that the violence does not increase in the region.''

The Indonesians also had given assurances that they would not interfere with the democratic rights of the people. Additionally, Annan said, the East Timorese always had been part of the plan and ''whatever we do, the East Timorese will be very much part of it and nothing will be done without their full participation.''

Ramos-Horta rejected the notion that the long-disputed territory of East Timor would be incapable of suriving as an independent sovereign nation state.

''We are told that East Timor is too fragile, too small and will not be able to sustain itself,'' he told reporters. ''But the argument against the creation of new nation state in East Timor is flawed. We already have 30 to 40 independent states in the United Nations which are smaller in size and population than East Timor.''

Geographically, Ramos-Horta said, East Timor was 30 times larger than Singapore and 60 times larger than Seychelles, both longstanding members of the world body. Singapore had a land area of about 240 square miles and Seychelles about 175 square miles.

He pointed out there were significant economic success stories in some of the world's smaller nation states, including Liechtenstein (62 square miles) and Luxembourg (999 square miles).

Ramos-Horta also dispelled the argument that small states were generally ''unstable.'' ''There hasn't been a single cross border encroachment initiated by a small country the size of East Timor,'' he said.

Most wars, he said, were instigated by big powers, Ramos-Horta added. ''We don't have nuclear, biological or chemical weapons in East Timor!'' he added.

Asked what could have prompted Indonesia to make a dramatic turnaround after 23 years, Ramos-Horta said the economic crisis and the change of presidency had a significant impact on the changing political climate in Jakarta. Indonesia's collapsing economy forced longtime President Suharto out of office and his successor B.J. Habibie took the initiative in offering autonomy to East Timor.

Ramos-Horta said high-level corruption and mismanagement not only had led to the country's economic collapse but also the willingness to part with East Timor.

''Strategically, East Timor is not important to Indonesia,'' he said. And at the same time, it was proportionally enormously costly for Indonesia to hold onto the territory. The army was overstretched because of domestic problems and the economic costs of East Timor were heavy.

Ramos-Horta said he had predicted that ''when it comes to a crunch, East Timor would be the first to go.''

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