Subject: Annan, Howard Praise Indon, Play Down War Crimes Tribunal

Annan, Howard praise Indonesia, play down war crimes tribunal

CANBERRA, Feb 21 (AFP) - UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Australian Prime Minister John Howard Monday said the Indonesian judicial process should be given a chance and played down the need for an international war crimes tribunal to try those responsible for violence in East Timor.

"The important thing is to make those responsible accountable and the Indonesians are moving ahead in a determined manner to do that," Annan told a press conference here.

"I met the Indonesian Attorney-General and Human Rights Commissioner in Jakarta and I think they are taking it very, very seriously.

"If they do mount a transparent and credible trial, I do not think the (Security) Council will see any need to set up an independent tribunal."

He said the UN would cooperate in the prosecution and suggested Australian intelligence should also be made available.

"Whoever has information regarding the atrocities which were committed should cooperate with the prosecution," he said.

"We obviously will cooperate to make sure those accountable are brought to trial. When you say Australia, I think you mean INTERFET, I think that would be appropriate."

And he urged Jakarta to embrace an independent East Timor, saying "both Indonesia and East Timor realise they are bound together by history and geography and it is their interests to have good relations".

Howard also urged that the judicial process in Jakarta be allowed to take its course.

"I totally share the view of the Secretary General on that," he said.

"Indonesia deserves a lot of credit and understanding for what she's done on this and I think the process should be allowed to work in Indonesia.

"I believe the Indonesian government has displayed a great deal of strength on the issue. It's not easy. Australia joins the UN in encouraging the Indonesians to firmly, fairy and effectively deal with that issue."

Howard described Australia's relationship with Jakarta as perhaps "the most important this country has".

Annan held hour-long talks with Howard and senior ministers Monday and thanked Canberra for its role in the East Timor conflict.

"We could not have achieved much without the support and leadership that the Australian government and people of Australia showed," he said.

"Without that generosity and that determination to help those in need we couldn't have made it.

"It was because of your leadership prime minister and the commitment of Australia that we were able to mount a force so quickly. When the atrocities started in early September I think few people thought we could have a force on the ground by the 20th."

In turn Howard thanked Annan "for the leadership he's shown and skill and speed of the United Nations in assembling the international force that went into East Timor".

"Without that diplomatic skill and speed the very positive outcome simply would not have been possible."

Annan will meet Governor-General Sir William Deane later Monday.

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