Subject: Indonesia's Wahid Proposes Talks With Australia, E Timor

Associated Press April 28, 2000

Indonesia's Wahid Proposes Talks With Australia, E Timor

JAKARTA (AP)--In an effort to mend Indonesia's strained relations with neighboring Australia, President Abdurrahman Wahid Friday proposed a three-way meeting with Prime Minister John Howard and East Timorese leader Jose Alexandre Gusmao.

"I would like the three countries to cooperate for our mutual benefit and interests," Wahid said after holding talks with Gusmao in Jakarta.

Wahid said the conference should be held in the northern Australian city of Darwin, in Indonesian-controlled West Timor, or in the East Timorese capital of Dili.

Relations between Canberra and Jakarta have been patchy for decades. They deteriorated sharply after Australia led a multinational peacekeeping force into East Timor last September following an overwhelming vote for independence in a U.N.-supervised referendum.

The peacekeepers ended a bloody rampage by anti-independence militiamen and oversaw the withdrawal of Indonesian troops from the province, ending a harsh 24-year occupation.

Wahid, who assumed office last October, has traveled to dozens of countries since then, but has pointedly refrained from visiting Australia.

Moreover, he has criticized Australia's role in the East Timor crisis and chastised it for pursuing "childish" policies toward Indonesia.

In contrast, Gusmao, East Timor's main resistance leader and a former political prisoner in Indonesia, has repeatedly praised Australia's intervention in his devastated homeland.

But at the same time he has also worked hard to build close relations with Wahid.

The U.N. is currently administering East Timor which is expected to become independent within two years.

Gusmao Supports 3-Way Meeting

Gusmao, who is expected to become its first president, and Howard are scheduled to hold talks in the Australian capital, Canberra, next week.

Thursday, Howard predicted that relations with Indonesia might never be fully repaired.

Gusmao said he supported Wahid's plan for a three-leader meeting and would urge Howard to take part.

He also said he briefed Wahid on developments in East Timor since the president's first visit there two months ago.

During that trip, Wahid solemnly apologized for decades of Indonesian human rights abuses.

The damage from last September's killing, burning and looting is estimated to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Wahid has strongly backed a judicial probe into the atrocities, but has resisted international pressure for the establishment of a U.N. war crimes tribunal.

Indonesian prosecutors are preparing to file charges against military officers and militia members blamed for the mayhem.

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