Subject: RT: Australia says Habibie wants E.Timor vote by June
Date: Sat, 06 Mar 1999 08:35:59 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Received from Joyo:

:March 1, 1999

Australia says Habibie wants E.Timor vote by June

SYDNEY, March 1 (Reuters) - Indonesian President B.J. Habibie wants East Timor to decide on the question of autonomy before national elections on June 7, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said on Monday.

Downer said an ``autonomy package'' could be finalised during the next round of U.N.-sponsored talks on the troubled province between Indonesia, Portugal and the East Timorese on March 8-9.

``When I met him last week in Jakarta, President Habibie repeated to me his intention to resolve the question of East Timor's status by January 1, 2000, and to have the East Timorese make a decision on autonomy before the June 7 elections,'' Downer said at the Australia-Asia Institute in Sydney.

Downer, who also held talks last week in Jakarta with jailed East Timor rebel leader Xanana Gusmao, said all parties involved agreed that the East Timorese would not be given a ``full referendum,'' or province-wide vote, on the question of autonomy.

Indonesia, which is facing its worst economic and political crises in decades, is against a referendum, apparently fearing other regions in the sprawling archipelago would seek similar votes.

``One possible option is for a consultative assembly to be elected by the East Timorese and for that assembly to make the decision,'' Downer said in a speech on Australia and East Timor.

Downer said there were other ideas being considered, all involving wide participation by the East Timorese, adding the process must be seen as credible to the East Timorese.

Downer said he had told Habibie that whether the East Timorese voted for autonomy or independence, the transition must be ``peaceful and orderly,'' adding that he hoped there would be no need for a U.N. or other peacekeeping force in East Timor.

``At this stage we do not favour a United Nations peacekeeping force of the kind involved in Cambodia,'' Downer said.

``The responsibility for managing the transition process and maintaining order in East Timor lies with parties involved, not Australia or the international community.'' Pro-Indonesian and East Timorese independence groups have clashed violently in the province in recent weeks, with some analysts warning of civil war if Jakarta pulled out abruptly.

Downer said Australia prefered a ``long transition period'' before East Timor's final status, but added it was up to the East Timorese to decide how long the transition should take.

``We have always made it abundantly clear that it is for the East Timorese themselves to decide,'' Downer said.

``Whether they want independence instead of autonomy, whether they want a quick or a prolonged transition, we will respect their decision,'' he said.

Downer said President Habibie had assured him that whatever the outcome, Indonesia would not desert the province.

``The Indonesians have given me a firm commitment they will not just walk out and leave East Timor in a state of chaos if independence is chosen,'' Downer said.

Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 after former colonial master Portugal abandoned it. Jakarta annexed it the following year. For the past 23 years there has been a guerrilla resistance war against Jakarta's occupation.

In January, Habibie reversed Jakarta's opposition to East Timor breaking away, saying he would offer it autonomy or independence. Autonomy will give the East Timorese internal political control, leaving defense and foreign relations to Jakarta.

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