|Subject: IPS: Cease-fire as UN Talks Resume
Date: Sat, 24 Apr 1999 10:39:46 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Inter Press Service April 21, 1999, Wednesday
EAST TIMOR: CEASE-FIRE AS U.N. TALKS RESUME
By Farhan Haq
UNITED NATIONS, Apr. 21
The tense mood hanging over the East Timor talks lifted today as U.N., Indonesian and Portuguese officials began three days of meetings on the future of the Indonesian-occupied territory.
Diplomats met at the United Nations to resume talks on a possible autonomy plan for East Timor and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan praised the signing of a cease-fire between East Timor's warring factions.
The cease-fire, signed by pro-Indonesian paramilitary leader Joao da Silva Tavares and pro-independence leader Leandro Isacc, promised a peaceful resolution the dispute over Indonesia's 24-year occupation.
Significantly, the signing was witnessed by Gen. Wiranto, head of Indonesia's armed forces, and by Nobel laureate Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo.
"We think it is a positive step," said Portuguese diplomat Fernando Neves. "It makes more clear that the Indonesian armed forces are responsible for maintaining security in the territory."
"I am glad that (the cease-fire pact) happened because the government has made an attempt all along to push for this type of agreement," declared Indonesian envoy Nugrohu Wisnumurti.
Annan added that it was of "paramount importance" that the pro-and-anti independence factions in East Timor abide by the cease fire. U.N. officials have been planning for a vote on East Timor's status as early as July, plans that could be scuttled if violence worsened in East Timor.
U.N. envoy Jamsheed Marker acknowledged last week that the recent spate of killings in Dili, Liquica and other Timorese towns was "disturbing." But he asserted, "I have no intention of recommending to the secretary-general that we back off."
Some of the violence, he added, was a settling of scores, "this always happens in situations like this."
He added that "we'll have to have a U.N. presence there as soon as possible" to ensure that conditions for a vote on East Timor's status can be established. The Pacific island state was in the process of winning independence from Portugal in 1975 when Indonesia invaded, annexing East Timor the next year.
Supporters of East Timor's independence insisted that a U.N. peacekeeping force or diplomatic mission was necessary to keep the peace, following a spate of attacks which have killed dozens of people, including 25 people in Liquica and 13 pro-independence Timorese in Dili on Apr. 17.
"Indonesia must allow the immediate deployment of U.N. personnel to protect human rights and monitor Indonesian troop withdrawals and the disbanding of the militias," said John Miller, spokesman of the U.S.-based East Timor Action Network.
The recent upsurge in violence came just weeks after Indonesia announced it would be willing to accept East Timor's independence if the U.N.-brokered autonomy plan were rejected by the province's voters.
Miller called the recent killings a "terror campaign" that was "clearly designed to derail any prospect of a U.N.-organized vote by the East Timorese on their political future."
One European diplomat, who spoke to IPS on condition of anonymity, agreed. "How many killings can the peace process take before it collapses?" he asked.
He said that the weekend attacks in Dili had resulted in the death of the son of one pro-independence leader, and had involved the participation of the province's Indonesia-appointed governor, Abilio Soares.
The jailed leader of the pro-independence National Council of Timorese Resistance, Xanana Gusmao, recently ended his side's support for a cease fire, citing the rise in pro-Indonesia paramilitary violence in East Timor.
Gusmao, who remains in house arrest in Jakarta, did not attend today's signing but last week pledged "total cooperation" with Bishop Belo's efforts to maintain a peaceful dialogue among all Timorese factions.
Observers believed there was little hope that the paramilitary violence would cease entirely, with the United Nations now moving toward devising a summer vote on East Timor's status.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas and his Portuguese counterpart, Jaime Gama, were expected to agree by Apr. 23 on an autonomy plan for East Timor which would grant the state's residents control over all but military, foreign and financial affairs.
Gusmao and many Timorese believe that the autonomy plan would be rejected in a fair vote.
Marker said last week that the United Nations had not decided how a vote on Timor's status will be conducted, but asserted that U.N. officials will determine the appropriate methodology.
Annan had indicated that balloting may be held in staggered votes in East Timor as well as centers of the Timorese diaspora, including Macau, Australia, Portugal and the United States.
The presence of U.N. peacekeepers for any vote remains unlikely, with the U.N. Security Council unwilling to deploy troops in any hostile situation and Jakarta wary of allowing an armed U.N. presence. But diplomats here believe an observer mission could be sent to East Timor in advance of voting.