Subject: Transcript: 3/4 Albright-Alatas Joint Press Conference
Date: Sat, 06 Mar 1999 08:57:02 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <>

*EPF406 03/04/99 TRANSCRIPT: 3/4 ALBRIGHT-ALATAS JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE (This is a pivotal moment in the history for Indonesia) (4080)

Jakarta -- Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is in Indonesia to consult with Indonesians about how America can best work with them during their economic recovery and democratic transition.

In a joint press conference with Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas March 4, Albright said: "We are encouraged by (Indonesia's) progress in preparing for democratic elections.... The United States does not support any particular candidate, but we do support a process that we hope will be peaceful, free and fair, during and after the elections, a process in which the voice of the people is heard, and the popular mandate for political and economic reform is recognized."

The United States, Albright said, considers Indonesia a very important country and sees in it possibilities for assuming a greater role in the region. "This is a pivotal moment in the history of one of the world's great nations," Albright said. "Events here in Indonesia over the next year, and especially in the next three months, will go far to determine the extent of democracy, the pace of recovery, and the prospects of social tranquility in this country and, by extension, all of Southeast Asia."

A significant part of her discussions with Alatas was devoted to the situation in East Timor, Albright said. "There is broad, international support for Indonesia's willingness to consider greater autonomy or independence for East Timor, but there are also grave concerns which must be addressed urgently and boldly about the fighting, the availability of arms, the social and economic impacts of a rapid transition, and the need to find a credible means to discern the will of the East Timorese people," she said.

Following is the official transcript of the joint press conference:

(begin transcript)

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE Office of the Spokesman (Jakarta, Indonesia)

March 4, 1999


(Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jakarta)

March 4, 1999

MINISTER ALATAS: Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends, thank you very much for your presence here this evening. We are very pleased to welcome Secretary Albright on her first visit as Secretary of State to Indonesia. She was here before, of course, when she was still Permanent Representative and Ambassador to the United Nations, and I still recall that visit with pleasure. But now, we are very happy that she did make time to visit us after visiting other countries in the region. We had a very good talk. And among other things, of course, I had the opportunity to explain the latest developments with regard to East Timor. What else? But we are very grateful for the attention, interest, and support that the United States has always shown to us in our efforts to find a comprehensive solution to the problem, and we now believe that we are close to such a solution. Hopefully, we will have a solution in the not-too-distant future.

We also, of course, exchanged thoughts and had discussions on other issues of mutual concern, developments within ASEAN, questions that affect us here in Southeast Asia, as well as, of course, some developments in the world. So, I would like first of all to invite Secretary Albright to address the group, perhaps, and then we would give you the opportunity to pose questions. Please.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much. And I am very, very pleased to be in Jakarta to meet with my esteemed friend, the Foreign Minister, and I look forward to meeting tomorrow with President Habibie and other leaders, both inside and outside the government.

This is the 50th anniversary year of diplomatic relations between the United States and Indonesia. I arrive with a message of friendship from President Clinton and the American people. I am here to consult with Indonesians about how America can best work with them in this period of economic recovery and democratic transition. As I will make clear in my discussions, we are encouraged by progress in preparing for democratic elections, and I made that point already to the Foreign Minister. The United States does not support any particular candidate, but we do support a process that we hope will be peaceful, free and fair, during and after the elections, a process in which the voice of the people is heard, and the popular mandate for political and economic reform is recognized. To this end, the United States has joined with others in the international community in providing UN-coordinated assistance to those in Indonesia who are working to see that the elections are credible and honest.

I am very pleased in my meeting with the Foreign Minister to have reviewed a range of important bilateral and regional issues, and not surprisingly, as he has pointed out, a significant part of our discussions was devoted to the situation in East Timor. There is broad, international support for Indonesia's willingness to consider greater autonomy or independence for East Timor, but there are also grave concerns which must be addressed urgently and boldly about the fighting, the availability of arms, the social and economic impacts of a rapid transition, and the need to find a credible means to discern the will of the East Timorese people. I look forward to further discussion of these and other subjects in my meetings tomorrow.

This is a pivotal moment in the history of one of the world's great nations. Events here in Indonesia over the next year, and especially in the next three months, will go far to determine the extent of democracy, the pace of recovery, and the prospects of social tranquility in this country and, by extension, all of Southeast Asia. And so, I am pleased to be here to express American friendship and concern at this critical time. Thank you.

MINISTER ALATAS: Thank you very much, Secretary Albright. And now, if you have any questions, would you indicate the organization you represent, and also to whom your question is addressed.

Q: I have a question for both of you. Firstly, Madam Secretary, I assume you brought up the question of reports that the Indonesian army is arming militias in East Timor. How did you put this to the Minister, and what was the Minister's response?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I did raise the issue, because we are concerned about the reports that we have heard and also about the violence. The Foreign Minister had an explanation. I think that he is the one who ought to give it.

MINISTER ALATAS: Well, I explained to Secretary Albright that reports abroad as if our armed forces -- or the Indonesian armed forces -- are arming groups of people who are for integration, in order to instigate fighting against groups of people for independence, is totally unfounded. This has not happened. In fact, the opposite has happened in the last few months. What has happened, however, is the training and selective arming of the so-called people's guard or people's auxiliary guard. That is happening throughout Indonesia, and not only in East Timor.

As you may be aware, one of the things that we have had to battle with during the past few months is a clear shortage of police personnel in facing the many demonstrations and facing the many riotous conditions all over the country that have been taking place. And, therefore, short of or in view of the fact that it is very difficult in a very short time to train police to add to the ranks of regular police, we have reactivated an existing institution, which is called people's guard or people's auxiliary guard. And we are selectively arming them, mostly arming them with wooden sticks, in fact. And in some parts only, they are being issued rifles, but these rifles are not to be kept in their hands, but need to be kept in the military or police command posts all over Indonesia.

Now, having explained that, however, we do concede that unfortunately, and we are deeply concerned to note it, there have been instances lately of clashes between groups that are for independence of East Timor and groups which are for integration. And we are doing all we can in order to overcome this situation because this is, of course, a result of a realization that now there are two clear choices in front of them. There is some degree of consolidation of forces on both sides on the eve of a decision to be taken very shortly, we hope, whether or not they will accept this package of autonomy that we will put on the table. Of course, we do not deny that some of these groups in their fighting, apart from using things like machetes or bows and arrows, some of them turn out to have some weapons also, some firearms also. But these are definitely not firearms supplied by our armed forces.

We have just as vital an interest as anybody else that East Timor remains quiet, that law and order prevail there, both in the run-up to a solution in East Timor and especially after a decision has been taken. Because, if there is any trouble in East Timor, if there is any conflict breaking out in East Timor, especially after a solution of it, then the very first country where people will run to, refugees will stream into is, like they did in 1975, is Indonesia, is West Timor. So, why should be want to happen a situation that is uncontrollable in East Timor? We have no reason, and we have vital interests to prevent this from happening. We have no interest in arming one group against the other. We have put our choices very clearly now on the table, and we are very relaxed. You can either choose for autonomy, or you can choose independence through the parting of ways. So why should we instigate things that we cannot control?

Q: I'm sorry to change the subject, but I just have a quick Kosovo question, if possible. Madam Secretary, the Clinton administration has former Senator Bob Dole going to Pristina today to meet with ethnic Albanians to discuss, possibly agree, to a final peace plan. You've also got the possibility that Ambassador Holbrooke may go, I assume, with any plan to Serbia to see Milosevic. Do you plan to perhaps stop on your way home in Europe or take any other action to try to push forward this process before March 15?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me just say that I spoke with Senator Dole this morning as he was getting ready to go to Pristina. He is someone who I was in contact with while I was in Rambouillet and someone who has a very good relationship with the Kosovo Albanians and who has taken a great personal interest in this subject, so I am very pleased that he was able to undertake this mission. On the issue of Ambassador Holbrooke, that decision has not been made, about his travels or his involvement at this time. The same is true of my plans, as to whether I will go home via Europe or the other way. You'll know when we head the plane in one direction or another. (Laughter)

Q: Has the Indonesian government considered declaring a state of emergency in Ambon? And if I may, on a different topic, for Secretary Albright, how would you describe the state of relations between the United States and the Taliban given the ongoing talks? And also could you comment on reports that there has been a falling out between Osama bin Ladin and his hosts?

MINISTER ALATAS: Well, on this state of emergency question that you have raised, no, we don't think that at this stage that is necessary or even desirable. We hope that we will have the situation under control. We have sent some reinforcements there, of police and of troops, and we think that we can have the situation under control.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Our relations with the Taliban are none. Our problems are that they, first of all, I think that their human rights record and especially their treatment of women is abominable and is something that the United States has spoken out against a number of times. And we do not believe that it is possible to have a relationship with a group that has that kind of a human rights record and is trying to put its women back into the 13th century.

Otherwise, as far as Afghanistan is concerned, what we would like to see is a government that is broadly representative comprised of a number of the various factions. That's something that we have called for and have been working with the United Nations on that process. On Osama bin Ladin, we have made very clear that his "fatwa" against Americans is unacceptable and do not believe that anyone should give him safe haven.

Q: I was just trying to find out how far you got on discussions about the possible methods of consultation of the Timorese on the two available choices.

MINISTER ALATAS: That is a subject which will figure very prominently and importantly in my forthcoming talks with the Secretary General and with my counterpart Foreign Minister Jaime Gama, but I can't tell you yet that we have found a way. Although there are various thinkings about how to agree on a methodology that would satisfy everybody, that would be efficient and effective and fair in representing the views of the East Timorese.

Q: I would just like to know first of all specific objections Indonesia has to having a referendum on the question of autonomy, and I'd like to ask Secretary Albright what other credible means do you think there could be to discern the will of the Timorese people, short of a referendum, given the bad blood that existed there over the past couple decades.

MINISTER ALATAS: Well, as I have tried to explain to many quarters, including to the Secretary General, we believe a full-fledged referendum, although theoretically of course a quite democratic way of finding the views of people, may in practice, with regard to East Timor, turn out not to be the best way. Because for one thing, it contains many risks of a resurgence of a conflict situation because the way a referendum has to be structured if it is to be called a referendum, will require many things, making it also a very complicated process.

For example, the UN must do it on the half island of East Timor. For that, our troops have to be withdrawn first. Our regional government must be dismantled first. Then the UN must come in, of course, only after discussion and debate in the UN Security Council. The UN cannot come in only with administrative personnel, but with troops, with peacekeeping troops. How many and who will foot the bill, who will send the troops, that again will be a subject of sometimes quite extensive debate in the Security Council.

Then all the people who are abroad, the East Timorese in the Diaspora, must all come home first, because otherwise they do not accept such a referendum as being legitimate. So, they will have to come back home. Of course, Xanana Gusmao has to be freed, but that is no problem. He will also have to participate in the referendum. Maybe those who are still in the mountains, the guerrillas who are still in the mountains, have to come down. Then you will have to set up this whole thing, registration, etc. of the voters and the eligibility of those participating in the referendum--whether people have doubled by this time, double nationality or not. Well, Indonesia is relaxed, but all this will take a long time. It's complicated, and it would not meet the desire of Indonesia to have the answers of the East Timorese, if possible, before August, when our newly elected People's Consultative Assembly will meet, will convene.

Then our president can give a report as to the result of the assessment of the wishes of the people of East Timor whether they will have, they will accept the autonomy package that we hope will be placed on the table openly in a few weeks' time or, whether they reject it. If we miss this deadline, then we will have to wait for such a long time again before the Indonesian National People's Consultative Assembly can be reconvened.

And, therefore, we have proposed--and this is now being discussed very seriously with the secretary general and with my counterpart, Foreign Minister Gama--to find out, also on the basis of the very vast experience possessed by the United Nations, to find out the best methodology short of referendums, short of a full-fledged official referendum, in which we can gauge the views of the East Timorese people in a fair and in a sufficient manner, so that it is acceptable as a good gauge of what the East Timorese want.

And here I want to stress one thing. Please note. We have now given two options. One is autonomy; and one is independence. In fact, although we call it parting of ways, it's independence.

So we are not worried any more about the result of this assessment. In fact, we have only now a desire to find out exactly what they want. We are not worried to "lose" and have people fall for independence. Why should we? We are offering them independence already.

So it is totally, I think, erroneous to think that Indonesia is against this method of referendum because we are afraid for the result. We are not afraid. We are relaxed now. I think the ones that should be afraid are Ramos-Horta and others because I'm going to call their bluff.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: And from our perspective, let me say, I mean, we have discussed--obviously, the foreign minister and I had a discussion on this--and talked about various methods, as well as his trip to New York to talk to the United Nations about various possibilities. And we are open to suggestions. I think from our perspective, it's very important that whatever outcome does emerge is one that is acceptable to the people, and that the sampling, or whatever process is used, is one that is deemed free and fair and open and allows for the expression of the variety of views, and ends once and for all this kind of violence and population displacement and some of the problems that have obviously plagued the East Timorese for a long time and that have now the possibility of having a peaceful resolution of this issue which will be suitable for the region and the people of East Timor and, obviously, Indonesia.

MINISTER ALATAS: But I forgot one aspect to mention--the risks involved in a referendum and the way that I described it. To have these groups of people: one for independence, or against autonomy, and one for autonomy on the small streets of Dili and Baucau and so on, propagating their different views. You know it contains a high risk that they will start fighting again, that old wounds are reopened, old conflicts are revisited.

And, therefore, to prevent that, the UN will have to be there with a very sizeable peacekeeping force. So, the risks of that and the very big complication that is involved, or the complexities that are involved, in a full-fledged referendum. And, therefore, we are looking for something that is just as satisfactory, we hope, but short of a referendum. I hope it is clear now.

Q: This question is for Madam Albright. I have two questions. First, there are some who say that the CIA is behind the fall of former President Soeharto and also behind many riots happened lately in Indonesia. What is your comment on this? And the second question is: what is the intention of your visit here? Thank you very much.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, it is my sense, from having followed events fairly closely, that it is the people of Indonesia who were behind the fall of President Soeharto. And they are the ones now who are expressing their views and are part of a very healthy electoral process that is very important for the Indonesian people and for the region and for the world that this process be free, fair, open, and non-violent. And the international community is very supportive of the whole election process and is going to be assisting by providing technical assistance as it has in a number of areas, a number of countries that have gone through a process of democratic reform. So, that is my assessment of the electoral aspects of this.

The purpose of my visit is that, as I have said a number of times, the United States considers Indonesia a very important country in the region and in its great possibilities for really assuming a very important role, even greater, in this region. We have many friends. We want to see this process evolve, as I said, peacefully. And I wanted to show my support for the evolution of democratic reforms and for the economic reform programs that are also very important to the Indonesian people to regain economic health, and also to allow Indonesia to participate fully in the global economy.

So, I am here to show friendship and support for the people and government of Indonesia as it goes through what I think is a remarkable evolutionary process in democratic and economic change.

MINISTER ALATAS: Yes. Last question.

Q: Madam Secretary, I'd like to follow up on Laura's question and turn to Kosovo for a second. Given that Mr. Demaci seems to have left the scene, and the good friend of the Kosovar Albanians, Senator Dole, is going to see them tomorrow, how do you gauge the chance that they'll actually sign this piece of paper?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that, as we know, they have a varied group. And they have been talking and coalescing. And I think what has been happening is, as we indicated at Rambouillet, that it was a good idea for the Albanians to go back, in order to get national -- their people to support what we believe is a very fair and good agreement. I think that we'll have to see whether that process will be successful this time. I believe fully that what we suggested at Rambouillet was a very important step forward.

And also, it's interesting to be talking about this here where East Timor is talking about autonomy. And I think you heard me say there, that I believe that as the international system evolves, and there is more recognition of the identity of various groups that live in countries where there are a number of different ethnic groups or minorities, that this high state of autonomy is a very interesting approach to future relationships within and between states.

And I'm hoping that the Kosovar Albanians will see that high level of autonomy as being responsive to their needs, to be understood, not only as Albanians as an ethnic group, but also the various other communities there to be allowed to have a certain, you know, respect for their political and human rights.

So, I don't know when they're going to sign is the answer. (Laughter.)

MINISTER ALATAS: In order to provide balance, one last question from this lady here, and then

Q: I want to say this. Welcome for Madame Albright to Jakarta. I have one question. What is your government's opinion about the people from Irian Jaya because they want to become independent and what about the Ambon case?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I do know that there are issues there also in terms of desires for more-- greater--ability for them to express their views. I'm not going to comment on an alternate disposition of these issues. But I do believe that it's very important for there to be an ability for democratic expression and for a recognition of the possibility of working all these things out together in a very equal and democratic way. I think that is the best way to handle that.

MINISTER ALATAS: Thank you very much. Tomorrow you will have another opportunity.

Back to March Menu
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu
June '98 through February '99