Subject: RI, E.Timor assets dispute lingers as talks continue

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

Jakarta Post

Monday, September 8, 2003

RI, E.Timor assets dispute lingers as talks continue

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja and Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Assets remain a thorny issue in Indonesia and East Timor relations, as neither of the countries is willing to back down from its stance in settling the problem.

In high-level talks between the two countries in Dili over the weekend, Jakarta demanded more time to register the personal assets of East Timorese who have chosen to remain as Indonesian citizens.

The East Timor government has not yet responded to the demand, saying that its national legislature had still to discuss the request.

"The dateline for Indonesians to register their assets in East Timor is March 2004, but the registration forms were handed to us only last month, so it is difficult for people to claim their rights," Indonesian ministry spokeswoman on East Timor Ratna Lestari told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

She said that data at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs showed that the personal assets of East Timorese who fled the former Indonesian province totaled around Rp 200 billion (US$235.3 million).

"Many of the refugees abandoned their homes without carrying with them any ownership documentation, so it will be difficult," Ratna added.

"What we ask is simply a chance to have legal recognition that those assets belong to our citizens; compensation should not necessarily be financial," she stated.

More than 150,000 people fled the former province in 1999 after the riots that followed a referendum on the separation of East Timor from Indonesia.

Some of the refugees chose to maintain their Indonesian citizenship, and demanded compensation for their homes and land from the East Timor government.

However, that government refused to recognize any documents issued by the Indonesian government between 1975 and 1999, which has made it more difficult for either side to settle the issue.

Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975.

Ratna said there would be another meeting later this month to discuss the problem. "Assets are our main agenda item for now," she remarked.

The two countries have been striving to address many residual issues following the separation; so far, assets have remained the most contentious.

Both sides agreed earlier to transfer the Indonesian government's assets in East Timor as investment capital for the newly established country.

In Jakarta, Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto agreed to help the East Timor armed forces and provide training for their soldiers.

"We should bury the hatchet," Endriartono told East Timor Brig.Gen. Taur Matan Ruak in a meeting on the weekend. TNI said that it was prepared to support the establishment of stronger armed forces for the new country.

"We are currently looking for suitable opportunities to train East Timor military officers," TNI spokesman Maj.Gen. Sjafrie Syamsuddin told the Post on Sunday.

"But we have responded positively to the request from East Timor as a matter between two sovereign countries," he added.

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