|=Subject: IPS: Portugal, Indonesia Sign Autonomy
Date: Sat, 08 May 1999 09:28:23 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Received from Joyo Indonesian News:
RIGHTS-EAST TIMOR: Portugal, Indonesia Sign Autonomy Agreement
By Farhan Haq
UNITED NATIONS, May 5 (IPS) - Supporters of East Timor's independence supported the signing Wednesday of peace agreements for the Indonesian-occupied state but warned that the United Nations must ensure the safety of the Timorese population.
All sides hailed the signing of the agreements - by Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, Portuguese Foreign Minister Jaime Gama and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan - as a breakthrough in resolving the question of East Timor, the former Portuguese colony occupied by Indonesia since 1975.
The agreements include a plan to allow East Timor a wide degree of autonomy under Indonesian rule, and a side agreement to allow a ''consultation'' in which Timorese can vote on Aug. 8 whether to accept or reject the autonomy plan.
If the Timorese voters decide to reject autonomy, Jakarta is committed to allow East Timor to go its own way without Indonesian rule.
''This is a historic moment,'' Annan said. ''All of us are determined to ensure that (the August ballot) is free, fair and thorough.''
In a message conveyed from his house arrest in Jakarta, Timorese pro-independence leader Xanana Gusmao agreed. The signing of the accords could lead to ''the implementation of an international mechanism that will end the illegal situation in the territory, which has lasted for 23 and a half years,'' he said.
Yet many Timorese fear that the rising level of violence on the Pacific island state, much of it by pro-Indonesian paramilitaries, could still derail a fair vote if the United Nations cannot intervene.
Gama, after signing the accords, warned, ''A free consultation cannot take place in an environment of pressure, intimidation, fear and killings.''
''The situation in East Timor right now is not favourable for a fair and free consultation,'' argued Mari Alkatiri, first vice president of FRETILIN, the Timorese national liberation front.
Alkatiri said FRETILIN would do its part to allow the Aug. 8 vote to take place peacefully, but he claimed that militias set up by Indonesia could wreck the process if they are not disarmed.
''The peace process in East Timor is very much in danger of becoming a cruel hoax,'' declared Charles Scheiner, UN representative of the International Federation for East Timor, which supports Timorese self-determination.
Indonesia's military could not be trusted to maintain peace since ''they are a party to the conflict,'' he alleged.
Several rights groups blame the Indonesian military, or ABRI, for killing more than 200,000 Timorese since 1975. In recent weeks, massacres have been reported in Liquica, Suai and Dili, the Timorese capital.
Despite the separatists' distrust of Jakarta, the agreements specify that ''the government of Indonesia will be responsible for maintaining peace and security in East Timor'' to prevent any coercion in the run-up to the ballot.
''The maintenance of law and order is the responsibility of the Indonesian government,'' Annan said. He cautioned that all UN operations require the permission of the authorities on the ground - in this case, Indonesian President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie's government.
Annan said Habibie had assured him that Jakarta will ''do its utmost'' to ensure that a peaceful and fair vote is held. Jakarta is also under some pressure from its longtime ally, the United States.
On Tuesday, US Senators Pat Leahy of Vermont and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin announced plans to introduce legislation that would withhold US military sales and services to Indonesia until Jakarta disbands and disarms its militias, investigates the massacres and allow access to rights groups and the media.
Timorese leaders - including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jose Ramos Horta - have argued that, although some members of the year- old Habibie administration are trying to resolve the Timor question, some ABRI leaders still seem unwilling to let go of the territory.
''The Indonesian military remain defiant and are bent on denying the people of East Timor their hard-won rights,'' Ramos Horta wrote in a letter to Annan last week.
He contended that the ABRI forces in East Timor ''must be reduced to a maximum of 1,000 and they must be confined to a designated area.''
That is not likely to happen as Indonesia would be entrusted with the task of disarming both pro-Indonesia and pro-independence forces - ''a potentially complex task,'' according to Alatas.
At the same time, the United Nations will soon dispatch a police monitoring force to help maintain peace - estimated by some officials to comprise some 600 personnel.
Indonesia has already indicated it would approve of U.S., British, Australian, German, Japanese and Philippine officers.
On Wednesday, Gama gave Annan a ten-million-dollar contribution from Portugal to help pay for the balloting, while Australia has agreed to support the UN effort. But UN special envoy Jamsheed Marker said that the world body will still have to request governments to provide money and officers for the mission.
In any case, Annan conceded, the police contingent would not be armed. For some critics of the Indonesian occupation, that could be a recipe for disaster.
''If there is intimidation in East Timor, who is going to accept (the results of voting)?'' asked Constancio Pinto, UN representative of the National Council of Timorese Resistance, a coalition of pro-independence groups.
''The United Nations is going to have a very big responsibility (to prevent violence)...otherwise, it would undermine the United Nations' credibility,'' he said.
Logistical hurdles that need clearing in the coming weeks include registering people entitled to vote. This means all persons above the age of 17 born in East Timor, or who have one Timorese-born parent or Timorese spouse.
The United Nations also will allow ''special registration centres'' in several Indonesian and Australian cities, as well as in Lisbon, Maputo, Macau and New York. All registration is to be completed by July 18, to allow for some two weeks of campaigning and a two-day ''cooling-off period'' before the vote.
At the same time, activists were wondering when Xanana Gusmao, whom Indonesia has agreed to release in conjunction with the peace process, would be set free.
Alatas reiterated Wednesday that he would be released as ''part and parcel'' of the agreement, and Annan argued that he hoped for Gusmao's freeing ''sooner rather than later.'' (END/IPS/fah/mk/99)