Subject: New Information Revealed On Moves Behind E Timor Vote

ABC PM News Thursday, January 27, 2000 6:35

New information revealed on moves behind East Timor vote

COMPERE: It's a year today since Indonesia revealed it would consider granting Independence to East Timor, the territory it had invaded a quarter of a century before. It was a shock plan which led to the historic Referendum in East Timor but, as we now know, it was a plan that also unleashed a terrible wave of violence.

The prospect of independence and what would follow was also to shape a new and delicate era in relations between Australia and Indonesia.

From Jakarta our correspondent Mark Bowling reports.

MARK BOWLING: It was Indonesia's then Foreign Minister Ali Alatas who emerged from a cabinet meeting inside the Presidential Palace with a surprising new proposal.

ALI ALATAS (TRANSLATED): "The prospect of granting Independence to East Timor is not the policy of the Indonesian Government, he said. But it is the last alternative if the people of the territory continue to reject Jakarta's offer of special autonomy."

MARK BOWLING: After years of saying that East Timor must remain part of Indonesia, the government in Jakarta was for the first time conceding independence could be granted, even though Cabinet Ministers believed the East Timorese would not accept such an alternative.

In the weeks that followed the Indonesian Government went on to offer the people of East Timor a Referendum to decide for themselves if they wanted to accept a deal to remain part of Indonesia, but with greater autonomy, or to opt for full independence. Indonesia's then Information Minister Yunis Yosfir [phonetic] said East Timor's future would be decided democratically.

YUNIS YOSFIR (TRANSLATED): "If Indonesia's autonomy proposal is not accepted by the mass in East Timor" he says "we will suggest to the Indonesian Parliament, after fresh elections in June, that it release East Timor from Indonesia."

MARK BOWLING: It's now clear that Australia had played a key role in Indonesia's new East Timor policy. Weeks before the proposal was revealed, Prime Minister John Howard had sent a letter to President Habibie outlining Canberra's continuing recognition of Indonesia's sovereignty over East Timor. But also there was an Australian shift in position, that it now supported self determination for the people of East Timor.

In the mind of Indonesia's President, that was a significant shift. The loss of a long time supporter of Indonesia's East Timor policy, which left Indonesia with very little international support for an East Timor infamous for its tough military rule and human rights atrocities.

On the same day a year ago, the Indonesian Government said it would move East Timor's guerilla Leader, Xanana Gusmao, from gaol to house arrest. This was greeted as a victory by pro-independence forces, that Indonesia simply could not sustain its military grip on East Timor. Within weeks that transfer was made, and East Timor was on a rocky path towards an independence ballot.

But there's now overwhelming evidence that elements within the Indonesian military were already training, and possibly equipping, pro-Jakarta militias for a violent showdown if the East Timor vote went in favour of independence.

An Indonesian inquiry, ordered by a new President and with a new Military Command in place, is expected to report next week on the extent to which the armed forces were involved in the killings and violence which followed East Timor's Referendum, and significantly to what extent key military leaders like former Armed Forces Commander General Wiranto were actively involved and responsible for the rampage.

COMPERE: Mark Bowling.

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