Subject: UN: Press Conf. by SG and others
Date: Fri, 12 Mar 1999 19:08:59 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <>

12 March 1999

Press Release SG/SM/6922



The following is a near-verbatim transcript of the press conference on the East Timor talks, held at Headquarters on 11 March, with Secretary-General Kofi Annan; Ambassador Jamsheed Marker, Personal Representative of the Secretary-General for East Timor; Ali Alatas, Foreign Minister of Indonesia; and Jaime Gama, Foreign Minister of Portugal.

SECRETARY-GENERAL: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I am happy you are here in your numbers to find out what happened with this round of discussions. Let me first thank the Ministers for their presence and the cooperative spirit they displayed throughout our talks. We have just completed a very positive and constructive round of talks and the main issues we discussed at this round were, one, the autonomy proposals for East Timor and its finalization; two, the method of consulting the people of East Timor on the autonomy proposal; and three, the situation in East Timor.

Foreign Minister Ali Alatas of Indonesia informed the meeting that he will convey to the tripartite forum Indonesia's revisions of the autonomy plan as soon as these are completed. And I think he indicated to you yesterday that further discussions were going on at home.

On the means of consulting the East Timorese, which I know is of great interest to you, 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. The specific modalities of how the popular consultation will be carried out are being worked out at the moment. Members of my Personal Representative's staff will soon be visiting Jakarta, East Timor and Lisbon to continue the process of consulting East Timorese leaders and personalities. While the situation in East Timor remains a matter of concern to all the parties, I welcome the recent positive steps to promote dialogue and reconciliation amongst the East Timorese. In particular, I am encouraged by efforts to set up a mechanism for fostering peace and stability in East Timor to which I am prepared to lend my full support.

As to the next steps, let me share with you what we've decided to do. We shall organize a senior officials meeting here in New York on 13 and 14 April, under the chairmanship of my Personal Representative Ambassador Jamsheed Marker. We will follow that with a meeting of the two Ministers and myself on 22 April, again in New York. We will now take your questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

QUESTION: On behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA), to you, the two Ministers and your Personal Representative, welcome. The first question is to you, Mr. Secretary-General. Once the political settlement is reached, have you discussed what kind of United Nations involvement will be in place?

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SECRETARY-GENERAL: We are in the middle of discussing that and, obviously, the United Nations will have to play an important role. And these are some of the issues that we will discuss and clarify with friends of the process, with the Security Council, as we move forward. And it tends to become much clearer once we have agreed on the plan, which I hope we will be able to do by next month. We are still trying to meet the deadline we set of settling the autonomy plan by end of April.

QUESTION: My question is to Mr. Alatas. The situation on the ground seems to be the thing that is preoccupying people the most at the moment. In the meantime, while we wait for the final agreement, people are dying and it's not now just a question of the violence between those who are in favour and against independence, it's also a question of shortages of food. We've heard reports in the last few days of the situation getting quite nasty -- 3,000 teachers have asked to be evacuated. Could you tell us what steps your Government is taking to try to improve the situation on the ground to prevent bloodshed and to get food there?

Mr. ALATAS: Well, we are continuously trying to address the issues that you raised in a comprehensive manner. Let me first say, however, that, as usual, there is a lot of exaggeration about the food situation, and so on. I've read the dire predictions of José Ramos Horta about the impending food shortage, as if we will be soon seeing East Timorese falling down in the street because of hunger. There is no such thing. We are in a very severe economic and financial crisis all over Indonesia. That is admitted, but we don't have anywhere in Indonesia, famine. We have overcome earlier threats to shortages of food, especially rice. So, if there are any shortages of food in East Timor, they will be quickly overcome because no where in Indonesia is there any famine.

As to the question of teachers and medical personnel feeling very nervous in East Timor, that, unfortunately, is the result of a period of harassment, intimidation and even murder by pro-independence East Timorese, that has been perpetrated against especially these two categories of people because they are mostly coming from outside East Timor. But I think that is the most stupid thing to do for any nation, because now we have great problems in trying to convince the medical personnel not to leave East Timor. We have continuous talks with the teachers, who are up in arms and want to be sent back home. We hope we will be able to convince them that leaving East Timor would cause a lot of problems for the East Timorese. But let me stress once again, this is a situation caused by very irresponsible elements of precisely those who want independence and not those who want integration, who have no interest in causing this kind of situations.

There has also been fighting, unfortunately. There has been tensions between the two groups -- those for integration and for independence. But we are trying to overcome them, as I have said, in a comprehensive way. We are

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trying to set up a group of accepted and acceptable leaders from all groups, including Xanana Gusmao. This is a proposal by our National Commission on Human Rights. One of the first encouraging steps has been what the Secretary- General has just referred to, namely, the meeting between the chief representative of the armed factions of pro-integration with Xanana Gusmao. They have agreed to stop the fighting there. I hope that their joint appeal to both groups will have an effect. Beyond that, we are going to see the creation of a commission of peace and reconciliation, which we hope will include all members of the different factions in East Timor and different political persuasions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary-General, do you see that there is political will in the Security Council to finance a United Nations mission in East Timor? And to the Ministers, it has been suggested, even by some pro- integration leaders in East Timor, that an early release of Xanana Gusmao would be very helpful to this process. My question to the Portuguese Minister is, is it helpful? My question to the Indonesian Minister is, is it helpful, are you going to do it, and if so, when?

SECRETARY-GENERAL: On the first question, I hope the Security Council will find a way of financing this operation, if and when we get there. I believe that it is a problem that has been with us for quite a while, and everybody has been searching for a solution. For the first time, we seem to be moving forward, and I would hope that the process would not stop or fall apart for lack of funding. I don't think the Council would want that on its hands.

Mr. GAMA: We have been insisting on the liberation of political prisoners as a factor for reconciliation. There has been some progress, but, unfortunately, that progress has not been totally accomplished. We have been presenting the United Nations elements relating to the situation of the political prisoners. Now that needs to be compared with others, namely, the ones that are in the possession of the Indonesian Government. We hope that along this process we can have the release of all the political prisoners, including Xanana Gusmao. It will be, as you can understand, a big impulse towards a peaceful settlement of this problem. But as you know, the solution of that question is not dependent on my Government.

Mr. ALATAS: If the purpose for asking the early release of Xanana Gusmao is for him to be able to play a role in the process of finding a solution to East Timor, to be more active in that process, to be consulted, and so on -- this is already happening. We have recently, as you know, moved him out of the prison into a special house. He is receiving more visitors than I do and not in a prisoner's garb. He is playing his role. So I want to know what else is the purpose then for him to be released earlier, in which he can play even a better role.

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We believe that there are other factors at stake for our Government to take into consideration. There are many East Timorese in Indonesia who would be up in arms if we were to release him early because they feel that they have been the victims of what he has been doing for years as head of the group that was fighting against the Government. There will be a lot of people who would be very uneasy if we were to change our law under pressure because he is someone who has, apart from his political beliefs, been convicted on some of the things he has done which are criminal in nature -- killing people, burning villages, stealing cattle, etc. Therefore, we believe that we have gone very far in accommodating what the international community would like us to do, and that is include him actively in this process. He is already being included.

As for the other political prisoners, we have made great strides, in that this Government has released almost all the political prisoners, but it is a legal process. We cannot do it just by the stroke of a pen. We have to check case by case and they are released in batches, by giving amnesty to certain groups. There are now only 17 to 18 East Timorese prisoners left who are eligible for release, outside of Xanana Gusmao. I am sure that within a short span of time we will be able to announce the release of these remaining people.

SECRETARY-GENERAL: As you know, we have all encouraged the Indonesian Government to ensure that Mr. Gusmao is able to play his role in this. What the Minister has indicated is correct, that he is now under house arrest, which we had discussed with the Government, and he is now able to play a role. Perhaps, what the Minister may want to comment on is the fact that his release may come as part of this whole solution. I think that, eventually, he has to be released, and a comment from you would be helpful.

Mr. ALATAS: Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General. I forgot to mention that, because that is long-standing policy. We have announced from the very beginning that Xanana Gusmao will be released as part and parcel of an overall settlement. So, the minute we have reached an overall settlement of the question of East Timor, his release will be automatic. We do not need to negotiate that any longer with anyone, but we will do it ourselves.

QUESTION: There have been a number of ideas discussed, obviously you are still working out specific modalities as you said, but we had heard the idea of a rolling ballot as one of the options discussed today. I was wondering whether you could clarify what a rolling ballot means in this context and what advantages that offers, that you could not agree on in a referendum.

SECRETARY-GENERAL: Let me say that we did not discuss in detail this sort of rolling ballot. What we have sought to do is to select the most democratic and direct means possible to consult the East Timorese. Obviously, there are logistical considerations to factor into any decision that we take.

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Given the fact that the polls will not be held only in the territory of East Timor, but in the diaspora, where East Timorese live in large numbers -- from Portugal to Australia to the United States and other parts of the world where there are large numbers of East Timorese. So we have to organize it in such a way that we can pool all those East Timorese whether they live in the diaspora or in the territory. These are the logistical aspects that we are going to be working out and as I indicated, a team from Mr. Marker's office will go to the ground and visit some of these capitals for us to be able to firm up our plans.

QUESTION: I would like to ask to both the Ministers, what are the differences between your positions now, if any, concerning this matter of consultation. Can you clarify this? For the Secretary-General, what would the United Nations need to provide this consultation and when do you intend to do that? Don't you think it will be useful to form a delegation to deal with this as soon as possible?

SECRETARY-GENERAL: On the question of a United Nations presence, let me say that we did discuss it and I would hope that immediately after the agreement, which as I indicated would be by the end of next month, we will establish a United Nations presence there. In the meantime, the United Nations staff are able to visit and go in and out. As we indicated, fairly soon we are sending a team to the region.

On the question of the method of consulting the East Timorese if there were any disagreement, I will say that, as someone who chaired the meeting, we had unanimity as to the approach and the method, but I will let the Ministers speak for themselves.

Mr. ALATAS: Well, as I have tried to explain on several occasions and just now a few minutes ago before CNN, our objection to applying the method of a full-fledged referendum in order to determine or ascertain the views of the East Timorese towards a package of autonomy, whether they accept it or whether they reject it, is that it may not be the most efficient or the most effective method. Furthermore, a full-fledged referendum is a method that is fraught with risks.

Also, it is cumbersome because it has to fulfil certain formalities according to the United Nations before you can apply a full fledged official referendum. For one thing, everything has to take place in East Timor itself. Of course, because it will be a United Nations conducted referendum, the United Nations must come in there, United Nations peacekeeping troops must be there after debate at the Security Council to replace the Indonesian presence there. Then all the people abroad -- the East Timorese from Australia, Lisbon and so on -- have to participate. They have to be back there in East Timor, we have to allow them all back, including, of course, Xanana Gusmao, and so on. This method is quite democratic theoretically, but practically speaking, it is fraught with risks of returning conflict.

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Indonesia is not against a referendum because we are afraid of the results. I would like to point out to you that a change has now occurred in the Indonesian position. We are offering independence already. So whether the assessment of the views of the East Timorese will result in acceptance of autonomy or in a rejection of autonomy, meaning independence, for us it is no longer a problem. In the past, you may have assumed that Indonesia is against a referendum because we are afraid of the results. We are not.

Indonesia is also not against a referendum because we want to be undemocratic. On the contrary, from the beginning we have said that although we honestly believe that the referendum may not be the right methodology because of its formalities and its cumbersomeness, we are in favour of assessing the views of as many, if not all, of the East Timorese in other ways. For example, by having an assessment abroad by a United Nations team and an assessment in East Timor, so you do not bring them together. So you do not have any peacekeeping troops, etc. There are methods that are just as democratic.

Let me stress one thing, Indonesia is vitally interested to have as many East Timorese approached for a view because we are eager to see whether it is really true, what for years now we have been enduring from people like Ramos Horta saying, that 90 per cent of the East Timorese are for independence. I would like to see very much, but for that we need all of them to be approached and to participate in the counting, including in the villages, and not only the vocal few who live in Lisbon or Australia. We are not undemocratic, on the contrary, we want as many East Timorese -- as far as the funds and the time is concerned -- to be approached. Please don't have any misunderstandings. I think it is the other side that is getting a little bit nervous because we are calling their bluff now. Now we are saying fine, let them find out, and if they want autonomy, fine. If they want independence, fine. We are relaxed and have no more fears. Please, choose what you want. I hope this is now finally understood by everybody, including the press.

Mr. GAMA: I would like to comment on this point. First, on our side what is important is not words but the substance of the issue. We have been stressing -- and now we are coming very, very close -- that it would be a consultation of the East Timorese conducted by the United Nations and democratic. In modern times, you have no democratic consultation which is not universal. All the countries have elections. Indonesia is gearing to have a general and democratic election. For us the methodology for consulting the East Timorese will be equal to the methodology used in free and fair elections in democratic countries. That is why we have come to a conclusion in the negotiations yesterday and today. It is a turning point, but we still need some details. The consolidation of free and fair consultations for the East Timorese have been acquired in this process.

QUESTION: MR. Alatas, what do you think the result of the consultations is going to be?

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Mr. ALATAS: Frankly, I don't know, but, as I said, I am eager to know. Finally then we will know whether it is true that 90 per cent are for independence and only 10 per cent are for integration, or whether it is otherwise. As far as the results are concerned, we don't know.

QUESTION: Would this balloting take place on a single day or would it be over several days, or one day in East Timor and over several days in the diaspora? And we are talking about a United Nations organized, United Nations conducted ballot. You do all agree on that, yes?

SECRETARY-GENERAL: That is what we are talking about. Obviously it will depend on our own team going down on the ground, visiting the areas concerned. We would want to do it in as short a time period as possible, but there will be voting in different time zones. So we need to be clear on that. If we want people in the diaspora, those in New York cannot vote the same day or the same time as those in East Timor. These are the logistical and other things we need to work out. We will organize the votes in a concentrated manner and try to get the results out as quickly as possible. So they will be able to vote in East Timor and wherever they live in the key centres, and then the results will be made known as soon as possible.

Mr. ALATAS: It is precisely as you have described. There has never been at any time a proposal by Indonesia that such a consultation would stretch out over weeks or months, which Mr. Gama said was a joke. Well, we never made that joke. Let's at least correct that misinterpretation.

Mr. GAMA: I would just like to emphasize that according to the exile situation, obviously the voting of the diaspora will not take place at the same time. But for East Timor, I would like to stress that, if it is possible to have elections in such a big country -- more than 200 million in Indonesia in one day, then why not the East Timor territory to have the balloting in one day. That is our opinion.

SECRETARY-GENERAL: That is our intention anyway.

QUESTION: How many people are going to vote? I mean 280,000 in East Timor, but beyond that what is the whole figure?

Mr. ALATAS: Well we don't know. According to the numbers registered during the most recent elections in Indonesia, but that includes, of course, people who are not of East Timorese identity but also other people who are there in East Timor, there are around 600,000 eligible voters out of a population of about 800,000. That is in East Timor alone. I don't know the numbers in the diaspora, but I've been told, and please correct me if I'm wrong, that it is between 20,000 and 30,000 spread out in several countries -- mostly in Portugal, Australia, Macau, the United States and Canada. These are the numbers we are talking about.

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SECRETARY-GENERAL: Jamsheed, do you want to say something here?

Mr. MARKER: At the moment, no. We will have to find out exactly. We are not in a position yet to give any realistic figures. But this will be part of the exercise we will be working on.

QUESTION: I was going to ask Mr. Marker what he thought. He has been following this process regarding these two gentlemen. Is this a significant point that we're at or do you feel there is a lot more to go in this process? And how would you describe the atmosphere in these talks? We heard that things were tense, that there were some insults on the first day. Summarize what has happened here over the last two days and what it means for the future.

Mr. MARKER: I can say that there is not a spot of blood on the carpets on the 38th floor. At one stage, I mentioned that I hoped it would be possible for the press to have been in the corridors because the laughter that came out of the room was almost raucous. The atmosphere was very good as the Secretary-General suggested.

QUESTION: Laughing at each other or with each other?

Mr. MARKER: With each other. A bit of both actually. But it was a very constructive and very helpful meeting. I endorse what both the Foreign Ministers have said that there has been a significant advance. I have no doubt that a lot of difficulties still remain, but I believe that we have taken a very large step forward. One can really look with confidence towards a solution.

SECRETARY-GENERAL: I think what Ambassador Marker refused to share with you is that at one point he whispered to me that he was perhaps beginning to think of life after East Timor.

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