Subject: SCMP/E.Timor: Former foes seek path to peace

South China Morning Post Wednesday, October 25, 2000


Former foes seek path to peace


The first talks in months between East Timorese independence leaders and West Timor-based anti-independence groups took place in Surabaya yesterday to discuss ways to reconcile the former combatants.

The informal meeting took almost two days to arrange but, once it happened, it looked like a family reunion.

Hugs and news about relatives were exchanged, as were details about how to heal the bitter divide between those East Timorese who fought Jakarta for decades and those who believe East Timor should still be part of Indonesia.

Paulo Assis Belo and Francis Soares of the National Council of Timorese Resistance met five leaders of the Union of Timorese Warriors, or Untas, at a Surabaya hotel.

West Timorese businessman Ferdi Tanoni brought the conflicting sides to the East Javanese capital in an effort to kick-start a resumption of contact after the murder of three foreign United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees workers in Atambua, West Timor, on September 6. Those murders, blamed on pro-Indonesian militia groups, resulted in the evacuation of all UN staff from West Timor, bringing reconciliation work and the hoped-for repatriation of East Timorese refugees to a near-halt.

There has been contact between individuals of the once-warring sides, but this informal meeting of representatives of the two organisations marked an important step in the search for peace, observers of the meeting said.

"I think it's important. It's certainly the first contact since the Atambua [killings], if not since the ballot", in which East Timor chose independence from Indonesia on August 30 last year, said N. Parameswaran, chief of staff for the United Nations Transitional Administration for East Timor (Untaet).

"This reconciliation process is a process, it's not a one-day thing, but we will carry this exchange forward," he said. "There are a lot of pressures on both sides and we have to be patient."

Focus of the talks was on how members of Untas and other pro-Indonesian groups could return safely to East Timor. On Monday, Untas secretary-general Filomena Hornay said in Surabaya that 100 per cent of his people wanted to go home, but only if their political rights and safety were guaranteed.

The talks come a week after four other pro-Indonesian militia members issued a letter pleading for United Nations guarantees in return for secrets about who ordered the militias to carry out the violence and destruction of East Timor after the independence vote.

Jakarta's recent incarceration of militia leader Eurico Guterres in the capital has set off a chain of confusion and frightened reaction among all who fought against independence. One diplomat observing the Surabaya talks said now was the time to exploit the divisions in order to get as many former militia as possible back to East Timor to face justice.

Assurances were given to leaders of Untas in Surabaya that they are welcome to compete peacefully in the politics of East Timor and that the newly formed National Council, East Timor's government-in-waiting, has seats reserved for the anti-independence camp.

The new president of the 36-seat council is Xanana Gusmao.

Also in Surabaya, the visiting Speaker of the provincial legislature of Kupang, West Timor, Daniel Woda Palle, said conditions for the 130,000 refugees were deteriorating and would be much worse within a week or two when the rainy season began.

"These refugees have been the outcome of a political turmoil. Portugal, Untaet and Indonesia should be responsible for it. Do not cast the burden on NTT [the provincial] administration alone. We are exhausted," Mr Palle said.

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