Subject: East Timor leader downplays probable rise of nationalist Megawati

East Timor leader downplays probable rise of nationalist Megawati

HANOI, July 23 (AFP) - The foreign envoy of East Timor's interim administration said Monday he was unconcerned about the likely accession to power in Indonesia of the nationalist vice president, and urged President Abdurrahman Wahid to stage a dignified exit.

Wahid should tell his supporters not to take to the streets and respect the probable impeachment decision of the Indonesian national assembly, Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos Horta told reporters on the sidelines of a regional meeting in Hanoi.

Wahid should leave power "as he always was -- with compassion, with moderation and with dignity", the East Timorese envoy said at the annual foreign ministerial talks of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

"What (the) president would do, I believe, knowing him, is to call for peace, to call on his followers not to go to the streets, to accept the verdict of the constitutional assembly because otherwise, the options are far worse, not consistent with what the president wants -- that is peace for the people."

Horta added he was untroubled about the likely replacement of Wahid by Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri, an avowed nationalist who opposed East Timor's vote in 1999 to split from Indonesia.

"We are very confident of her leadership if that is what is going to happen in the next few hours and days," Horta said.

"We will continue with the same determination in improving and normalising relations with Indonesia as what we have been doing under President Wahid."

Wahid declared before dawn Monday that he was dissolving the country's top legislature, only hours before it was due to call him to account for his 21 months of erratic rule.

But the parliament looked set to ignore the move and impeach the increasingly desperate leader in favour of Megawati.

Horta added that East Timor was different to other territorial problems affecting Indonesia, such as the provinces of Aceh and Irian Jaya.

"East Timor was never part of Indonesia. The rest of Indonesia is part of Indonesia. We have said that all along -- for 25 years in our struggle," said Horta.

Jakarta claimed possession of East Timor after its troops invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975. The fledgling state is currently under UN administration and preparing to become self-governing after general elections scheduled for August 30.

Horta said that in the initial years of its statehood, East Timor would want to remain an observer to regional groups such as ASEAN.

"I personally would support ASEAN. I cannot speak for the future governments that will emerge after the elections. There is consensus in the country of the importance of ASEAN," he said.

ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Hanoi expressed concern about the Indonesian turmoil but said they would stay out of the nation's crisis.

According to a draft of their final communique obtained by AFP, the ministers will welcome "the progress towards the restoration of stability in East Timor" and reiterate "the need for the support of the international community in playing an active role in the nation-building efforts of East Timor". [This message was distributed via the east-timor news list.]

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