|Subject: IPS: E.Timor UN Talks Produce Breakthrough
Date: Fri, 12 Mar 1999 18:39:37 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <email@example.com>
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*E.Timor UN Talks Produce Breakthrough
By Farhan Haq
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 11 (IPS) - The prospects for a vote on East Timor's future improved dramatically Thursday when the Portugal and Indonesia agreed to a UN- supervised ballot involving all Timorese living in the Indonesian-occupied territory and those abroad.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan cautioned that a UN team still must decide on the precise logistics of the voting but the foreign Ministers of Portugal and Indonesia wrapped up the latest round of talks here by agreeing in principle to a ''rolling ballot'' on East Timor's status.
''The meeting has reached an agreement that a method of direct ballot will be used,'' Annan confirmed.
''For the first time, there has been a real sea change in the Indonesian position,'' Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas declared. ''We are relaxed; we have no fear.''
Alatas said that Jakarta would accept the result of any vote on whether East Timor accepted autonomy within Indonesia, or chose to become an independent nation.
This decision broke with Indonesia's attitude in the past 22 years when it upheld its 1976 annexation of the former Portuguese colony. Alatas argued, however, that the decision to grant a ballot now was different from previous proposals to allow a referendum on East Timor's status - an idea Jakarta still rejected.
Alatas described the agreed ballot as ''a kind of vote'', but insisted that Indonesia still did not accept a referendum, which he described as formal, cumbersome and ''fraught with risk'' of conflict between supporters and opponents of Indonesian rule.
The differences between the proposed ''rolling ballot'' and a referendum were not immediately clear, and one supporter of East Timor's independence described Thursday's agreement as ''a referendum in all but name''.
Some sources suggested that Jakarta's main concern had been to avoid creating a precedent for other restive Indonesian provinces, like Aceh and Irian Jaya, by allowing a formal, UN-monitored referendum for East Timor.
Annan said that a UN team would now explore ways in which a rolling ballot could be held to include the eligible voters within East Timor as well as those Timorese living in exile, in Australia, Portugal, Canada and the United States. According to Alatas, an estimated 600,000 of East Timor's current population of 800,000 were eligible to vote, while some 20,000 to 30,000 potential Timorese voters were scattered in the diaspora.
This could pose some logistical problems for the United Nations, which must now find a way to gather as many eligible East Timorese voters as possible at polls around the world. As Annan noted, the different time zones meant that any ballot would be over a considerable span of time.
He promised, however, that ''we would want to do it in as short a time as possible.''
Joao Carrascalao, president of the pro-independence Union of Democratic Timorese, told IPS Thursday that all the balloting ''should be done on the same day.'' And despite Timorese suspicions that Jakarta is still trying to draw out the process, Carrascalao hailed the agreement on a ballot as ''a real breakthrough''.
The latest round of talks between Alatas and his Portuguese counterpart, Jaime Gama, had been overshadowed by a delay in reaching agreement on an autonomy package for East Timor - even though the two sides agreed last month to a wide-ranging autonomy that granted elected Timorese leaders control of all affairs except for defense, most foreign-relations issues and monetary policy.
After Alatas presented the package to the Indonesian Cabinet, some ministers in President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie's government objected to the extensive package being offered, sources said. Alatas explained that he will present Jakarta's new recommendations shortly, but called the delay ''normal''.
Pro-independence Timorese leaders remained upbeat despite the last-minute snags in the autonomy package. ''We are not worried at all about the delay requested by Indonesia,'' Carrascalao said.
''Autonomy is something that is going to be rejected overwhelmingly by the (Timorese) population,'' he argued. ''Once they realised autonomy was going to be rejected, why ask for such a wide package? It could be used as a precedent for other Indonesian provinces.''
''Indonesia has been wasting time...studying a proposal that will be rejected by the East Timorese people,'' agreed Jose Luis Guterres, the principal foreign-affairs official of the pro- independence National Council of Timorese Resistance.
Other potential snags remained on the horizon, even if the United Nations sorted out the logistical problems for a rolling ballot.
Annan warned that there may be a need for a UN peacekeeping presence in East Timor to prevent any violence between pro- and anti-independence groups. ''I hope the UN Security Council will find a way of financing this (mission), if and when we get there,'' he added.
Alatas noted another hopeful sign: a meeting in Jakarta between the jailed leader of the Timorese resistance, Xanana Gusmao, and Joao Da Silva Tavares, whom Alatas called ''the chief representative of the armed faction of the pro-integration (movement)''.
Gusmao, who was under house arrest, said after the meeting that the two men pledged to work for a peaceful resolution of their differences and could begin work on a cease-fire.
Annan repeated Thursday that Gusmao's ''release may come as part of the whole solution'' to the dispute over East Timor, which was invaded by Indonesia in 1975. ''Xanana Gusmao will be released as part and parcel of an overall settlement,'' Alatas added.
Meetings between Portuguese and Indonesian diplomats were expected to resume here by Apr 13, with another Alatas-Gama meeting scheduled one week later. Both sides have pledged to come to a final agreement on East Timor by the end of April. (END/IPS/fah/mk/99)