Subject: East Timor: Alatas 'laments' 1999 violence, pleased at Jakarta-Dili cooperation

East Timor: Alatas 'laments' 1999 violence, pleased at Jakarta-Dili cooperation

Dili, Sept. 8 (Lusa) - Ali Alatas, the former Indonesian foreign minister who negotiated East Timor's 1999 independence plebiscite, arrived in Dili Monday for a visit, expressing "lament" at the violence that scarred the process, but "satisfaction" with increasing bilateral cooperation.

"I feel no remorse because I did my duty as (Jakarta's) foreign minister", Alatas said on arrival for a two-day visit at the invitation of President Xanana Gusmão.

He underlined, however, his "lament" that the solution found through the 1999 UN-supervized plebiscite had caused "so many victims".

Widely considered an Indonesian elder statesman, Alatas, who now serves as an adviser to President Megawati Sukarnoputri, said he was "quite satisfied and impressed" that Jakarta and Dili had opted to "look to the future, cooperating mutually", since East Timor's independence in 2002.

Alatas, who will address a foreign affairs seminar Tuesday, was scheduled to pay courtesy calls on Gusmão, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri and Parliament Speaker Francisco Guterres.

His visit comes on the heels of a Friday-Saturday meeting in Dili of the Joint Ministerial Commission that reinforced the framework for bilateral cooperation in many fields.

In a joint interview with Lusa and Portugal's RTP television, shortly after his arrival, Alatas said he had always sought a "peaceful solution" for East Timor after assuming the helm of Jakarta's foreign policy in 1983.

He recalled "facing" three foreign ministers from Portugal, East Timor's former colonial ruler, in negotiations at the United Nations, saying the "hardest period" had been negotiating in the early 1990s with José Manuel Durão Barroso, now Portugal's prime minister.

"I think we could have found a better solution", he said of the 1999 plebiscite to resolve East Timor's resistance to 24 years of Indonesian occupation.

"I always feared that whoever lost (the vote) would not accept the results well. I was convinced we needed more time, more negotiations to achieve a peaceful solution instead of a political shock like a referendum".

Alatas said he supported "reconciliation" and "adequate justice" for Indonesian officers and proxy militias blamed for atrocities around the time of the plebiscite.

"But we must not be impatient", he urged, saying East Timor's separation from Indonesia had been "a painful and traumatic experience for both sides".

Alatas said he hoped to visit Portugal soon, honoring an invitation made by Durão Barroso last year. ASP/SAS Lusa

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