Subject: FT: UN role sought in East Timor
Date: Sat, 06 Mar 1999 08:37:20 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Financial Times (London) March 1, 1999, Monday LONDON EDITION 1


Sander Thoenes in Jakarta


Portugal and Australia want a United Nations presence in East Timor to help ease tensions as the territory moves towards autonomy or full independence from Indonesia. But Australia says an armed peacekeeping force is not required.

The Portuguese and Australian foreign ministers, who met in Portugal on Saturday for talks on the future of the territory, urged opposing factions in the former Portuguese colony to show restraint and avert further bloodshed.

East Timor, off northern Australia, was invaded and annexed by Indonesia after the Portuguese colonial administration withdrew amid civil strife in 1975. Human rights organisations estimate that more than 200,000 East Timorese have died since the invasion.

Portugal has condemned Indonesia for arming pro-integration militias after agreeing to grant East Timor independence if the Timorese rejected an offer of autonomy. Two separatist activists and a soldier were killed in the latest incidents on Wednesday.

Jaime Gama, Portugal's foreign minister, said a UN presence was needed as early as possible to help stem the escalation of tension and oversee the transition to autonomy or independence. This would include monitoring the decommissioning of weapons.

Alexander Downer, his Australian counterpart, said he envisaged the sending of civilian UN personnel to help in the process of consulting the East Timorese on their future, but "not a massive UN peacekeeping force, heavily armed, landing on the shores of East Timor".

Portuguese and Indonesian officials will meet in New York next week for a further round of UN-sponsored talks on East Timor.

Portugal and Australia, whose relations have been strained by the East Timor issue, achieved a broad consensus in the weekend talks on how best to support a peaceful transition in the territory, diplomats said.

This will include ensuring East Timorese benefit from offshore oil resources in the Timor Gap. A 1989 treaty, unsuccessfully challenged by Portugal, splits the oil and gas field between East Timor and northern Australia into three zones: Australian, Indonesian and joint co-operation.

* Delegates from Irian Jaya who met President B.J. Habibie on Friday made a surprise call for independence, rejecting an offer from Jakarta of expanded autonomy. The president had invited the delegates in an effort to assure the region he shared their concerns, but they reacted to an offer of independence for East Timor by demanding the same.

Diplomats say growing numbers in Aceh, the western-most part of Indonesia, have also switched from calling for autonomy to demanding independence.

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