Subject: AFR: Jakarta Observed: East Timor treads a careful line

also: AFR: New era for East Timor trio

Australian Financial Review February 27, 2002

JAKARTA OBSERVED East Timor treads a careful line

Tim Dodd

On May 20, East Timor will become the world's newest independent State when the United Nations formally hands over sovereignty to an elected government.

It has taken just over 2 years under the UN transitional administration to rebuild East Timor's ruined infrastructure and establish the institutions of government necessary for it to stand on its own as a nation.

On the verge of independence, the outlook for East Timor is far more positive than it looked in late 1999, when pro-Jakarta militia and the Indonesian army destroyed whatever they could before withdrawing in ignominy from the territory.

The key change is the security situation. The militia, which withdrew to West Timor, is no longer a threat because it is no longer actively backed by Indonesia's military.

Today, Indonesia and East Timor's transitional government are co-operating and consulting extensively on outstanding issues as independence day draws near.

But there is an unspoken Faustian bargain involved that is a reflection of the realpolitik East Timor faces in dealing with Indonesia, its giant neighbour and former oppressor.

In this week's talks in Bali between Indonesia and East Timor's transitional government, it is clear that for the sake of future good relations and to resolve the practical issues of becoming independent, East Timor's leaders have decided not to rock the boat.

For example, they have pulled right back from pressuring Indonesia over justice for armed forces and militia members accused of murder and destruction in the territory.

Prosecutors in Dili recently indicted 17 people now in Indonesia, including the notorious militia leader, Eurico Guterres, for crimes against humanity. Indonesia has refused to hand them over even though there is a memorandum of understanding previously agreed to for the "transfer" of suspects to East Timor to face trial.

But East Timor is not pressing the issue and the topic was not even raised in this week's talks. Why not?

"There are more other more urgent pressing matters which we need to discuss," East Timor's Foreign Affairs Minister, Jose Ramos Horta, says.

Neither will East Timor press for an extradition treaty with Indonesia to replace the inoperative memorandum of understanding. "It's too soon," Ramos Horta says.

With touchy matters like that off the table, progress was made in other issues still under discussion.

These include matters as diverse as border controls between East Timor and Indonesia's West Timor, repatriation of Indonesian currency and arrangements for future trade between the two countries.

Some issues have even been resolved. On Monday, Indonesia agreed to a bus service across its territory to the enclave of Oecussi, which is an isolated pocket of East Timor inside Indonesian West Timor. An agreement was also made for a postal service between East Timor and Indonesia.

But less than three months from independence, many key issues remain unresolved.

The most crucial is the return of refugees from West Timor. There are estimated to be at least 60,000 East Timorese still living in West Timor of the 120,000 to 150,000 who moved there in a mass exodus - some taken against their will - when Indonesia pulled out.

Unlike in the tense first year after Indonesia's withdrawal, when the pro-Jakarta militia was still strong, these people are no longer being held in West Timor by threats of intimidation.

But they do not want to return home and their presence, just over the border, is likely to be a source of long-term instability if not resolved.

Some who are linked with the militia, fear they will face retribution if they return. But a major reason for their continued presence in Indonesia is that many are dependent on Indonesian pensions.

At least 6,000 of the 60,000 or so still there are former members of the Indonesian armed forces, the police or the civil service who are entitled to Indonesian pensions. When dependents are taken into account, it is estimated by officials in East Timor's transitional government that 30,000 of these refugees are supported by Indonesian pensions.

But Indonesia has refused to pay pensions to people who become citizens of East Timor after independence. The international community has responded with a fund to pay the pensions, which needs $US25 million ($49 million) to be viable. Indonesia has pledged only $US2 million. Other aid donor countries, believing that Indonesia is contributing too little to meet this obligation, are declining to contribute.

Yesterday, at the trilateral talks in Bali with Indonesia and East Timor, Australia offered a token $2 million to the fund as part of a broader package of assistance for the refugees in West Timor.

This helps but far from solves the problem which is widely seen as primarily an Indonesian responsibility. But in the end the international community will have to chip in if the refugee problem is to be solved.

Many other issues are outstanding between Indonesia and East Timor. Among the most important are the boundaries of the new nation. The land border is still to be precisely determined and negotiations have yet to begin on the maritime borders.

Agreements on border crossing arrangements, for both people and goods, are also not yet in place although the two parties have agreed to "expedite" their completion.

East Timorese leaders know how important it is to retain Indonesia's goodwill in order to have these issues solved and to prevent new and dangerous tension arising in the future.

Australian Financial Review February 27, 2002

New era for East Timor trio

Tim Dodd in Denpasar

Australia and Indonesia paved the way for a smooth transition to independence for East Timor at a landmark forum in which Indonesia committed itself to a "good neighbourly and forward-looking relationship" with the region's newest nation.

The tripartite meeting yesterday marked a symbolic end to more than 25 years of conflict over Timor and helped prepare for today's 37-nation conference on illegal migration.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Alexander Downer, met his Indonesian counterpart, Dr Hassan Wirajuda, and members of East Timor's transitional government in what Mr Downer called a historic effort to put the past aside and build new ties with East Timor, which becomes independent on May 20.

"Whatever the history of Indonesia, East Timor and Australia, this meeting represents a very substantial step forward in terms of the relationship and makes a substantial commitment to regional stability and security," Mr Downer said after the meeting in Bali.

The talks, which were the first trilateral meeting between the three governments, discussed aid and repatriation for the 60,000 East Timorese refugees who are still in West Timor, economic co-operation and assistance, and police co-operation on law enforcement.

Australia pledged $8.5 million to assist Indonesia's 1.3 million people who are displaced by the country's internal conflicts and another $6.6 million to help repatriate East Timorese refugees.

Mr Downer said it was possible East Timor would join the Australia-Indonesia Development Area, a project to build economic links between northern Australia and the adjacent islands of eastern Indonesia.

The governments also put a framework in place for the new South West Pacific Dialogue, which will bring Australia, Indonesia, East Timor, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines together for regular discussions.

East Timor's Chief Minister, Dr Mari Alkatiri, told yesterday's meeting that the ties between Australia, Indonesia and his new country of East Timor went "far beyond geography".

Without mentioning Indonesia's brutal 24-year rule of East Timor or Australia's role in Indonesia's withdrawal, Dr Alkatiri said: "There is a strong emotional link between our three countries that surpasses economic or political or other quantifiable factors."

Yesterday's trilateral meeting was an Indonesian initiative and it was decided that it would take place annually, next year in Australia.

Dr Hassan told the meeting that Indonesia would "always be ready" to engage itself in any form of constructive discussion with a view to strengthening co-operation on issues of common concern, such as transnational crimes, economic co-operation and development issues.

The talks followed Monday's bilateral meeting between Indonesia and East Timor, which produced two new agreements, one to establish a bus service across Indonesian territory to the East Timorese enclave of Oecussi, which is surrounded by Indonesia, and the other to establish postal services between Indonesia and East Timor.

Today Mr Downer and Dr Hassan will jointly host the opening session of the international conference on people smuggling, which is Indonesia's response to the crisis in relations between the two countries last year over illegal refugees using Indonesia as a stepping stone to Australia.

Yesterday, Mr Downer praised Indonesia for its recent efforts to detain and deport people smugglers.

"The Indonesians themselves have been doing a very good job in cracking down on the activities of these people within Indonesia and I must say, as their friend and neighbour, we very much appreciate what they have been doing in recent times," he said.

Ministerial delegations from 37 Asia-Pacific and Middle Eastern nations are set to attend the two-day conference, which will seek to strengthen law enforcement against smugglers of illegal immigrants and also people traffickers who supply prostitutes and illegal labour.

"We have the countries of the region co-operating on this issue like never before," Mr Downer said.

Back to February menu

World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from