Subject: E.Timor independence may be delayed -Ramos-Horta

E.Timor independence may be delayed-Ramos-Horta

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO, March 15 (Reuters) - The foreign minister of United Nations-run East Timor, Jose Ramos-Horta, said on Thursday that achieving formal independence by the end of this year as originally planned could be difficult.

"This could happen by the end of this year or, if we see that some of the conditions that are essential for the foundation of independence are not there yet, we could very well postpone until 2002," the Nobel peace laureate told a news conference in Tokyo.

"Everyone has said that the calendar might be too tight. Therefore, we have to consider postponing if necessary."

"As I have said on numerous occasions, we have waited for 500 years, we can wait six months, one year, before independence is declared," he added. "The important thing is that we vote, we move slowly, steadily, with purpose, with certainty."

East Timor is scheduled to elect its first democratic parliament on August 30 this year, the second anniversary of its vote to end more than 23 years of often brutal Indonesian military rule.

That ballot triggered a wave of violence by pro-Jakarta militias that laid waste to much of the impoverished territory.

The U.N. took over running East Timor after a multinational force restored peace in late 1999. Ramos-Horta, who fled East Timor just days before Indonesian troops invaded in December 1975 and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996, said the final decision on independence would be made after the 88-member parliament is elected in August.

MAINTAINING SECURITY, BUILDING TIES

Looking ahead to maintaining security after independence, Ramos-Horta said East Timor has begun building its own defence forces under Australian and Portuguese supervision and hopes to have 600 people trained by the end of this year.

"Then we will work up to 1,500 active plus 1,500 reservists. Our advisers have told us that a total force of 3,000 is what is enough and sustainable."

But he said that East Timor would rely not only on defence forces for its security, but also intended to engage in "a very active and creative foreign policy" that may eventually include membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as well as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC).

Key among its diplomatic efforts is normalising ties with Indonesia.

"Relations with Indonesia are much more difficult and complex," he added. "However, we have made every effort to normalise relations with Indonesia, to put the past behind us."

"We have had very fruitful dialogue with the government of President Abdurrahman Wahid and his cabinet, and we hope to continue the dialogue to resolve crucial problems that remain."

INDONESIAN BREAKUP?

Asked if he thought East Timor's independence had given birth to separatist movements in other parts of Indonesia that could lead the sprawling island nation to break up, he said that Indonesia had managed to overcome difficult periods before.

"Throughout its history Indonesia has had incredible waves of violence. But also that violence passes, the country goes back and restarts. It is very resilient."

"It is my personal opinion that Indonesia will not disintegrate. It will be able to survive these next few months of instability and violence, it will regain stability, and the economy will pick up, because it is an incredibly rich country."


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