Subject: JP: Heated debate mars UNTAET-Indon House meeting

The Jakarta Post February 24, 2001

Heated debate mars UNTAET House meeting

JAKARTA (JP): An entourage led by the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) chief Sergio Viera Demello met with House Speaker Akbar Tandjung and Assembly Speaker Amien Rais on Friday in a move to promote the relationship between Indonesia and East Timor and to garner aid to develop East Timor.

The meeting was also attended by legislators of Commission I for defense, security and foreign affairs, including Astrid Susanto, Simon Patrice Morin, RK Sembiring Meilala and Joko Susilo, Antara reported.

The heated session was marred by legislators' objection to UNTAET's intention to ask the Indonesian government for assistance.

"The composition of UNTAET members certainly shows a sharp discrimination as no prointegration figures are included and only those who are proindependence are members. Therefore, it will be impossible to push for reconciliation in East Timor," Joko asserted.

"Before, East Timor asked for freedom and treated Indonesia as an imperialist. After Indonesia has now set East Timor free, why are you dragging our feet and involving us?" Astrid said.

Demello explained that "conditions in East Timor today are very different from before independence."

East Timorese proindependence leader Jose Ramos Horta, who also attended the meeting, eventually replied, saying that many East Timorese proindependence leaders have become sympathetic to Indonesia, "So let's forget the past. I think cooperation (between two countries) is possible."

Legislators told journalists after the meeting that to help repair Indonesia's tarnished international image, the government immediately should resolve all problems related to its former province East Timor.

Astrid, deputy chairwoman of Commission I, said the lack of an appropriate foreign policy on East Timor contributed to Indonesia's weak position in the international community.

"Our commission will recommend the government settle the question of Indonesia's assets in East Timor, the problem of the more than 120,000 East Timorese refugees in West Timor and human rights abuse cases in the former Indonesian province," she said.

She said her commission also would suggest the government seek a win-win solution regarding Indonesia's assets in the territory.

"Indonesia must gain compensation for its assets that will be nationalized by UNTAET.

"The government also should settle the question of the East Timorese refugees as soon as possible and pay the pensions of retired civil servants who were employed in the territory in the past," she said.

Asked about Lt. Gen. (ret) M. Yunus Yosfiah, who has been accused of being involved in the 1975 murder of five foreign journalists in Balibo, East Timor, Astrid said the commission had decided to set up an independent fact-finding team to investigate the case, and that Yunus would not be left alone to deal with the matter.

"Whether he was involved in the incident or not, Indonesia must not let the international community intervene in the case. The government has the constitutional and moral obligation to protect its citizens," she said, adding that several countries were manipulating the issue as part of a conspiracy to discredit Indonesia in the eyes of the international community.

Yunus, a former information minister, testified before the commission on Thursday that he knew nothing of the incident and had never met the five journalists who were killed.

Foreign institutions have called for an international tribunal to try Yunus, who they believe ordered the killings when he was a platoon commander in Balibo in 1975.

Sabam Sirait, another commission member, said the government had to stand up to the international community to protect Yunus, because he was sent to East Timor by the Indonesian government to prevent civil war in the territory.

"Yunus was a dedicated soldier, not only during the military operation in East Timor but also in the reform era. It was his decision to liberalize the national press in 1998," Sabam said.

Pataniari Siahaan, another member of Commission I, hailed the planned establishment of a fact-finding team to investigate the incident.

Pataniari also urged the government to investigate 22 military officers and government officials who were allegedly involved in the 1999 bloody unrest in East Timor.

"The absence of an investigation of the officials has drawn criticism that Indonesia is not committed to human rights and democracy," he said.

Bachrum Rasir, a commission member from the Indonesian Military/National Police faction, said the government should set priorities in dealing with the problems related to East Timor, instead of forging ties with UNTAET.

"It is not fair to supply rice and other commodities to East Timor, while the government has failed to pay serious attention to the refugees who are abandoned in West Timor," he said. (edt/rms) [This message was distributed via the east-timor news list.]

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