Subject: AFP/RT: Indonesian president wants to see free East Timor by 2000
From: "John M. Miller" <fbp@igc.apc.org>

Received from Joyo:

--- Jakarta Wants E.Timor Issue Settled By 2000 04:55 a.m. Feb 11, 1999 Eastern

By Muklis Ali

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian President B.J. Habibie said Thursday he wanted the issue of East Timor resolved by the start of next year.

His comments come a day after he allowed East Timorese rebel leader Xanana Gusmao to move from prison to house arrest. Most expect Gusmao to lead the impoverished territory if it does eventually become independent.

``From January 1, 2000, we don't want to be burdened with the East Timor problem,'' Habibie said in a speech to the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. ``As a friend, we will let them decide by themselves.''

Habibie last month abruptly reversed his country's long held stand on East Timor, offering its 800,000 people independence.

And Wednesday he bowed to mounting international pressure and moved Gusmao, who was captured in 1992, to house arrest.

Some analysts say Gusmao and the territory's religious leader Bishop Carlos Belo are the only East Timorese who have the credibility to lead the territory into independence.

They say most East Timorese would like to break from 23 years of Indonesian rule, which has been marked by a level of brutality that has earned Jakarta international notoriety.

That, they say, is a reputation Habibie feels Indonesia must shake off as he is forced to repeatedly go cap in hand to the international community to help the country deal with its worst political and economic turmoil in three decades.

Indonesia's annexation of the former Portuguese colony, which its troops invaded in 1975, has never been accepted by the United Nations.

Indonesia has said it would prefer East Timor to choose autonomy and many analysts question whether the fractious territory would be able to make it alone, even if led by Gusmao, given its politically divided population and impoverished economy.

Diplomats said the international community, and possibly United Nations peacekeeping forces, would have to get involved if the move to independence was abrupt.

Habibie said East Timor would still participate in June parliamentary elections.

``For the coming election, because they are still our province, they can join the election. That is democratic. But if our autonomy proposal is rejected, we will propose to the MPR to let them be independent,'' he said.

The MPR, or People's Consultative Assembly, is the country's highest legislative assembly.

Talks in New York earlier this week between Indonesia and Portugal on the future of East Timor made some progress though it remains unclear how the Timorese will be allowed to make their choice.

Indonesia steadfastly refuses to allow a referendum, arguing it would spark a civil war, while Portugal says it would be the only way to decide.

--- Habibie wants to see free E. Timor by Jan.1, 2000

*Indonesian president wants to see free East Timor by January 1, 2000

JAKARTA, Feb 11 (AFP) - Indonesian President B.J Habibie said Thursday he wanted to see a resolution to the problem of East Timor by January 1, 2000 with independence being the preferred solution.

If it were up to the government, Jakarta would grant the former Portuguese colony independence because it did not want to be burdened with it into the year 2000, he added.

"If the government should be asked for a suggestion on East Timor, my suggestion is just give East Timor independence," Habibie said in a meeting with the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry at the Merdeka Palace.

"We do not want to be burdened by the problem of East Timor as of January 1, 2000," Habibie said.

In 2000, Indonesia would be concentrating on the development of its 26 other provinces, which had been together for 350 years under the Dutch rule, he said.

Indonesia annexed East Timor in 1976 a year after it invaded the territory which was a Portuguese colony for almost four centuries.

The United Nations has never recognised the move and still views Portugal as the official administrator of the territory.

Indonesia last month announced it may grant East Timor independence if the majority of East Timorese rejected a broad autonomy scheme, currently being finalized in talks with Portugal under UN auspices.

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