Subject: AFP: Military wants to secure Megawati visit to East Timor

Military wants to secure Megawati visit to East Timor

JAKARTA, May 3 (AFP) - The Indonesian military said Friday it would provide security for President Megawati Sukarnoputri if she attends the independence celebrations in East Timor, three years after it was devastated during an orgy of army-backed militia violence.

Megawati has not yet said whether she will accept an invitation to East Timor's declaration of independence, when on May 20 the territory finally shakes off more than four centuries of outside rule.

But its president-elect Xanana Gusmao, who personally handed over the invitation during a meeting in Jakarta, said his people would welcome her with "all their heart" despite Indonesia's brutal 24-year occupation.

"If the government decides the president will go, then it is our duty and obligation to provide security for her," armed forces (TNI) spokesman Syafrie Syamsuddin told AFP.

"It is the TNI's duty to provide security ... both in the form of close-range physical security through the presidential bodyguard, and as backup for the close-range security."

If Indonesian soldiers do accompany Megawati to the capital Dili, it would mark their first return to the territory since they helped their proxy militias lay waste to it in late 1999 after the people voted overwhelmingly for independence from Jakarta.

Indonesian soldiers are blamed for backing and participating in the bloodshed and destruction, which sent hundreds of thousands fleeing across the border into West Timor.

But Gusmao, the former guerrilla commander who for years led the jungle resistance to Indonesian rule, has made rebuilding relations with East Timor's sprawling neighbour a cornerstone of his leadership.

On Thursday he paid a surprise visit to Jakarta -- his first since winning last month's presidential elections by a landslide -- for talks with Megawati.

And in the city where he was held prisoner for more than six years, he stressed his desire to renew ties.

"We on our part in East Timor will be working on the basis that she will grace our celebrations by her presence," the rebel-turned-statesman told a press conference.

"The people of East Timor greatly look forward to her participation and will welcome her with all their heart."

Senior ministers have said Megawati plans to attend the ceremony -- at which the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan will declare East Timor's independence at midnight on May 19.

But there has been fierce opposition from nationalist politicians, who cite unresolved issues between the nascent state and its former occupier, and lingering sensitivity among Indonesians over the loss of what they once considered the country's 27th province.

The head of the military's delegation in parliament had expressed opposition to Megawati attending the ceremony. But Syamsuddin said the TNI would support and "secure" whatever decision the government reaches.

The Indonesian military departed East Timor in disgrace after Australian-led international troops moved into the flattened territory in September 1999 to quell the destruction.

Ten army officers and soldiers are now being tried in Jakarta for gross human rights violations allegedly committed in East Timor in 1999.

Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said Friday that Megawati has asked Gusmao to finalise before May 20 relocation plans for the graves of those Indonesian soldiers who died in East Timor.

Megawati, a fierce nationalist, was opposed to the August 1999 ballot.

But last year she offered an olive branch to the new country when she said in a National Day speech that East Timor should never have been incorporated into Indonesia because it had never been part of Indonesian territory.

East Timor has been under UN administration ahead of independence since October 1999.


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