Subject: AFP: Portugal, Indon agree on E Timor UN-sponsored direct vote
Date: Fri, 12 Mar 1999 18:35:40 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Received from Joyo:

*Portugal, Indonesia agree on East Timor UN-sponsored direct vote

UNITED NATIONS, March 11 (AFP) - Indonesia and East Timor's former colonial ruler Portugal agreed Thursday on a direct UN-sponsored vote that could lead to independence, a move described as a turning point on the territory's status.

Indonesia finally announced publicly the concession that it had made privately to the United Nations and Portugal at talks here last month, by expressing support for a ballot that would be a referendum in all but name.

After two days of UN-sponsored talks here, UN chief Kofi Annan said the Portuguese and Indonesian foreign ministers had agreed on a "direct ballot" by the East Timorese on a draft autonomy package.

"The meeting has reached an agreement that a method of direct ballot will be used to ask the people of East Timor whether they accept or reject the autonomy proposal," Annan told a news conference.

He said that specific details remained to be worked out, however. UN special representative Jamsheed Marker said he had "no doubt that many difficulties remain."

Annan aides are to travel to Jakarta, Lisbon and East Timor to discuss arrangements for the poll, and the ministers are to meet here again on April 22.

Annan said agreement on the autonomy package -- which has still to be finalized by Indonesia -- was expected to be reached by the end of next month. Jakarta hopes the vote on autonomy can be held by the end of August.

Indonesia says if the autonomy proposals are rejected, then Jakarta would allow East Timor, which it annexed in 1976 after invading the former Portuguese colony in 1975, to become independent.

"For us, it will be equal to a free and fair election in democratic countries," Portuguese Foreign Minister Jaime Gama told the news conference. "It is a turning point."

Marker said the agreement on a direct ballot was "a very, very large step forward."

Diplomats said the vote would be a referendum in all but name, after Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas repeated his country's objections to a "full-fledged referendum."

He warned that organising a referendum would be a lengthy process requiring the presence of UN peacekeeping troops, and would be "fraught with risks" for the stability of Indonesia as a whole.

Gama told journalists after the last session of talks with Alatas that the Indonesian minister had for the first time agreed to a ballot on the draft autonomy package.

But the following day Alatas denied having said any such thing.

Indonesia depicts East Timor as a special case, to avoid other restive provinces in the sprawling archipelago making their own dash for independence or wide-ranging autonomy.

Annan said it was intended that the vote would take place during a single day in East Timor -- a key Portuguese demand -- although additional time would probably be required to consult the East Timorese diaspora.

The total number of voters is around 600,000 in East Timor, which has a population of 800,000, and up to 30,000 who live in Australia, Canada, Macau, Portugal and the United States, according to Alatas.

UN officials said that a census would be conducted to establish the exact number of voters.

Marker has said a majority of East Timorese favour independence rather than broad autonomy within Indonesia.

An East Timorese resistance leader, Joao Carralascao, on Thursday predicted "overwhelming rejection" of the autonomy deal.

However Alatas refused to admit defeat in advance. Referring to the pro- independence supporters of Timorese resistance leader Jose Ramos Horta, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, he said: "we are calling their bluff now."

Reacting to Thursday's announcement, Carralascao said his Union of Democratic Timorese would accept the vote "as long as it is conducted by the United Nations."

Indonesia, in a sudden policy shift in January, announced that it was prepared to envisage "letting go" of East Timor if the preferred option of wide-ranging autonomy was rejected.

"It's as if one day the Pope said, Islam is an option," one diplomat commented.

Portuguese diplomats have expressed sympathy for Jakarta's predicament as it sought a "face-saving" formula leading to independence.

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