|Subject: DPA: Downer doubts further delay in Timor
Date: Sun, 01 Aug 1999 11:27:00 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
July 29, 1999, Thursday, BC Cycle 08:25 Central European Time
Australian foreign minister doubts further delay in Timor ballot Jakarta
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Thursday he did not expect further delays in a United Nations-run ballot in the troubled Indonesian territory of East Timor, a day after the U.N. rescheduled to vote for a second time.
Downer held talks with Indonesian President B.J. Habibie and armed forces chief General Wiranto on security in East Timor ahead of the vote - now slated for August 30 - including efforts to disarm warring pro-independence and pro-integration forces.
"I've told them that we've welcomed in recent weeks the improvement of the security situation," the visiting foreign minister told a press conference. "(But) we still have some concerns."
Downer on Friday will become the highest-ranking Australian official ever to visit East Timor since it was abandoned by Portugal in the 1970s, as part of his four-day Indonesian trip.
He said Habibie and Wiranto reaffirmed their commitment to a peaceful ballot on August 30, during which East Timorese will choose between wide-ranging autonomy or independence.
"We have every reason to believe (the ballot) will take place on August 30," Downer said.
The U.N. on Wednesday announced the ballot, originally slated for August 8, would be re-scheduled because of security concerns and lagging voter registration.
Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 and annexed it a year later, sparking a civil war that has claimed as many as 200,000 lives.
The U.N. has recognised the territory as part of Indonesia, and earlier this year negotiated the ballot among the Indonesian and Portuguese governments, and pro-integration supporters and pro-independence rebels in East Timor.
However, voter registration has been marred by violence between pro-Jakarta militias, allegedly supported by the Indonesian military, and pro-independence groups.
The U.N. has accused pro-integration militias, which are backed by the Indonesian military, of inciting violence and intimidating residents to choose autonomy.
Downer hinted at an increased security presence in East Timor after the ballot, as well as a sizeable U.N. force if voters choose autonomy and Indonesia abides by the results and withdraws.
The Indonesian military is currently responsible for security in the region, and is being assisted by hundreds of unarmed police officers from the U.N. Assistance Mission in East Timor - or UNAMET.
"There's no question there will be an increased Indonesian security presence after the ballot," Downe9 dsaid, adding that UNAMET would stay on regardless of the result. "If they vote for separation ... there would be a requirement of some security to be provided under the auspicies of the U.N."
But the foreign minister added that it was "too sensitive" to discuss post-election contingencies prior to the ballot.
Downer met late Wednesday with opposition political leaders Megawati Sukarnoputri and Abdurrahman Wahid, both of whom are leading candidates in a November presidential race.
The foreign minister said Megawati, the presidential front-runner who is against independence for East Timor, remained "very non-commital" about the territory's future.
"I made it clear to her that whatever the people of East Timor vote for ... we want the People's Consultative Assembly to fulfill the wishes of the East Timorese people," Downer said.
The assembly - known as the MPR - will meet in November to select Indonesia's next president. The body in comprised of the 500-member parliament, which includes 38 seats controlled by the military, and 200 appointments from local legislatures and special interest groups.
There are fears Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, which finished first in a landmark June 7 parliamentary election, will block moves to reverse Indonesia's annexation of East Timor if she becomes president. dpa jc jh