Subject: EU Pledges To Continue Backing E Timor's Development

Associated Press March 23, 2000

EU Pledges To Continue Backing E Timor's Development

LISBON, Portugal (AP)--The European Union pledged continued backing Thursday for East Timor, ushering the territory towards nationhood as part of a wider strategy to ensure political stability in Indonesia.

The EU wants to steer East Timor, a former Portuguese colony that was taken over by Indonesia, into becoming "a democratic state which will contribute to peace in the region," Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres said.

Guterres, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, and other EU senior officials met with East Timorese independence leader Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao on the sidelines of an EU summit here.

The EU has granted EUR33.5 million to East Timor for immediate humanitarian assistance since a majority of its people voted last year to break away from Indonesia, which annexed the territory by force in 1976. EU member nations have also made separate contributions.

European Commission President Romano Prodi said the EU intended to finance long-term investments to establish permanent health care facilities and replace damaged infrastructure in East Timor.

Pro-Indonesian militias backed by the Indonesian military ran amok after the ballot. At least 250 people were killed and much of East Timor's infrastructure was destroyed.

The United Nations is running the territory until it is ready to hold democratic elections.

Gusmao cautioned that democracy in Indonesia was still fragile and warned against pressing Jakarta too hard on bringing senior military officers to trial for their part in the post-ballot rampage.

Guterres said there was a risk East Timor's development could be derailed by pro-Jakarta militia groups attacking from bases in West Timor, the other half of the island.

However, he said he was convinced the Indonesian government wanted to ensure stability in East Timor.

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