|Subject: RT: Australia to open East Timor consulate
Date: Sat, 29 May 1999 11:42:56 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <email@example.com>
Australia to open East Timor consulate 03:12 a.m. May 27, 1999 Eastern
SYDNEY, May 27 (Reuters) - Australia said on Thursday it would open a consulate in East Timor to assist the bloodied territory conduct its August ballot on independence and to protect Australians involved in the U.N.-sanctioned vote.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer conceded security in East Timor, where the Indonesian military has been accused of inciting violence, was still a concern and said he expected Indonesia to ensure the safety of consular staff.
``There will be some risks involved,'' Downer told reporters.
``Under the Geneva convention the Indonesian government has a responsibility for the safety of foreign consular officials,'' Downer said.
Clashes between pro and anti-Jakarta groups in the former Portuguese colony are still frequent despite the signing of a peace pact between the warring groups last month.
The United Nations has until June 13 to decide whether it is safe enough to carry out the August 8 ballot.
``There is a good chance the ballot will go ahead, but obviously the security situation on the ground will have to improve,'' Downer said.
Downer said Australian police who will take part in the U.N. operation should be allowed to carry side-arms for self-defence, but a final decision rests with the United Nations.
``I think Australians would expect our police to have handguns in a situation like this,'' he said. Indonesia opposes armed U.N. peacekeepers in East Timor.
Downer said the opening of a consulate, the first such diplomatic representation in East Timor, showed Australia's commitment to ensuring a valid ballot.
``We will be the only country that will have such representation in East Timor,'' Downer said.
``It reflects the view of the Australian government that we have to do everything we possibly can to assist with a successful ballot in East Timor,'' he said.
East Timor has been racked by armed conflicts between the pro-Jakarta militias and independence groups since Indonesia abruptly changed its policy of 23 years in January and said it would give East Timor a vote on autonomy or independence.
Under a U.N.-brokered agreement with Portugal, Indonesia agreed to hold the direct ballot on August 8. However, Indonesia has proposed a change in the date to August 7 which falls on Saturday, to respect the predominantly Catholic population.
Indonesia invaded the eastern part of Timor in 1975 and annexed it the following year in a move still not recognised by the United Nations and most foreign countries, except Australia.