Subject: Radio Netherlands: East Timor: Forget Compensation

East Timor: Forget Compensation

by our Internet desk, 4 July 2002

East Timor is pressing the Indonesian government to give up property claims in the newly independent nation. The Timorese position was made clear as President Xanana Gusmao and five of his ministers completed an historic visit to their former oppressor's country.

Mr Gusmao's visit was hailed a success by both sides, who have moved closer to complete reconciliation after a bloody independence war estimated to have cost more than 100,000 lives. Indonesia annexed East Timor in 1975 following the withdrawal of colonial masters Portugal. After decades of struggle, East Timor voted for independence in 1999 and this year became a nation in its own right.

Sticking Point One sticking point between Indonesia and East Timor has been the former's insistence on compensation for government assets such as power plants and telecommunications infrastructure.

Jose Ramos-Horta speaking to correspondent Abu Priadi Santoso 2'00"

The East Timorese position, as made plain by President Gusmao, is that Indonesia should forget about compensation. Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta explains:

"We have thought from the very beginning, that it is better for Indonesia and East Timor not to discuss assets because if we start discussing assets many people will raise the issue of human assets. Are we going to discuss buildings that were destroyed or owned by one person or another, and then not discuss the thousands of lives lost? If we start talking about assets, we will have thousands of Timorese families lining up demanding compensation for the loss of their loved ones."

Portuguese Question The issue is further complicated by the fact that Indonesia itself appropriated much infrastructure in the territory from former colonial power Portugal.

"The Portuguese government would also start getting involved, because hundreds of millions in Portuguese interests were lost here during the 25-year [Indonesian] occupation. Who is going to pay for all the public buildings that the Portuguese left here and were occupied by Indonesians? Look at this building here, look at the coffee businesses taken over. It's very complicated.

"We suggest to the Indonesians that we adopt a zero sum approach, and that is we don't make any claims, and the Indonesians don't make any claims. We, the East Timorese, deal with our people's claims, and Indonesia deals with its own people's claims. We hear that the Indonesian side's saying they borrowed money, well the Timorese side was not consulted."

Unhelpful Despite the inappropriateness of Indonesia's demands, Mr Ramos-Horta says East Timor is not resentful:

"I don't think we can use the word provocation at all. We are just saying that it is not at all helpful to Indonesia's interests or to our interests that the issue of assets and property is discussed at all."

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