Subject: Malaysia: "Misunderstandings" with E Timor leaders cleared up

Malaysia says "misunderstandings" with East Timor leaders cleared up

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 8 (AFP) - East Timor's independence leaders Tuesday met Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, a strong critic of the territory's breakaway from Indonesia, and Malaysian officials said later the meeting had cleared the air.

Xanana Gusmao and Jose Ramos-Horta held a 40-minute meeting with Mahathir, who has accused the West of inciting East Timorese to seek independence and has said they would have been better off staying part of Indonesia.

Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, speaking after the private meeting, said Gusmao now understood Malaysia's position better.

"The important thing today is that we no longer take them (East Timor leaders) as not understanding Malaysia well," the official Bernama news agency quoted him as saying.

The foreign minister said Malaysia and East Timor looked set for warm relations in the years ahead, according to Bernama.

Gusmao and Ramos-Horta arrived Monday night as part of an Asian tour, seeking help to rebuild the territory after bloody rampages by militias opposed to independence.

They declined to talk to reporters Tuesday. Ramos-Horta last year criticised Malaysia for staying silent about militia atrocities and predicted civil disobedience if it were given command of the military wing of the United Nations force there.

"We look at the matter as over with," said Syed Hamid. "We want to forge ahead towards regional and bilateral relations and we believe the East Timor government will be in place within two or three years."

Mahathir offered East Timor expertise in gas and petroleum production and help in training a civil service. He also said Malaysia was willing to explore investment opportunities, according to Bernama.

After an earlier meeting with the two leaders Syed Hamid said they asked Malaysia to send more personnel to the UN body running the territory until full independence.

"Our position is that when East Timor was considered part of Indonesia, it has always been our policy not to interfere in internal affairs," the foreign minister told a press conference.

"But after the consultative process, Malaysia has always been supportive. The question of us not supporting East Timor does not arise."

He said the leaders were seeking help such as university places for technical training, training of diplomatic staff and the provision of doctors.

"They even asked for our support for them to participate in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) process...I think they know their future is within our region and that is a very positive development."

He said East Timor was seeking observer or similar status so it could attend ASEAN meetings. It was premature to talk about membership until a government was formed. Ramos-Horta has previously been sharply critical of

Syed Hamid said the two also asked Malaysia to send more personnel to the UN transitional force.

Malaysia, which initially offered some 1,500 troops and indicated it was willing to lead the UN force if asked, later announced it would only send 20 military observers to the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET).

It denied it was "sulking" after a Filipino general was picked to head the unit.

Syed Hamid made no specific aid commitments, saying Malaysia had asked for details of what was needed.

"We know their requirement is quite tremendous. We will only be able to accommodate some of what they want because we also have our own constraints."

Defence Minister Najib Razak said Gusmao had indicated he would propose a rotational leadership for UNTAET.

Najib quoted Gusmao as saying he would raise the idea with the UN to give all ASEAN members including Malaysia a chance to be in command.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Najib said Malaysia was awaiting a formal request before deciding whether to send more troops to East Timor.

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