Subject: Reuters: Portugal warns Indonesia on E.Timor vote
Date: Wed, 18 Aug 1999 14:30:28 EDT

INTERVIEW-Portugal warns Indonesia on E.Timor vote

By Richard Waddington

LISBON, Aug 18 (Reuters) - Portugal warned Indonesia on Wednesday that there were still big question marks over whether an upcoming vote on East Timor's future would be considered free and fair.

``Any assessment of the legitimacy of the process can only be made after the (vote) count,'' Foreign Minister Jaime Gama told Reuters.

While there had been some encouraging signs, notably the successful voter registration programme, continued violence was giving cause for concern as the former Portuguese colony prepares for its historic decision, Gama said.

The East Timorese will decide on August 30 whether to accept autonomous status for their homeland within Indonesia -- which annexed the territory in 1976 after a bloody invasion -- or full independence.

``Incidents like yesterday say nothing good about Indonesia's behaviour,'' Gama said, referring to an assault on Tuesday on a pro-independence office in which shots were fired.

Further disturbances were reported on Wednesday when a group of pro-integration militias carried out a series of attacks near the western border town of Maliana, injuring a number of people.

Portugal, like human rights organisations, has urged Indonesia to do more to restrain the militias, which should have been disarmed under an accord between Lisbon and Jakarta that cleared the way for the vote.

Gama, who negotiated the terms of the ballot with his Indonesian counterpart Ali Alatas, said there was a significant gap between what Jakarta agreed to do and what it was doing.

``We continue to be worried by the attitude of the Indonesian military in Timor and their connections with the militias,'' Gama said.

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have blamed most of the trouble in the run-up to the vote on pro-Jakarta forces, saying that anti-Indonesia guerrillas have largely respected a self-proclaimed truce.

Most observers in East Timor see a majority of the territory's roughly 450,000 registered voters opting for independence, providing they do not feel intimidated.

But Gama declined to be drawn into predictions. He said Portugal's role had been confined to securing the right of the East Timorese to decide their future for themselves.

``We fought for the creation of the conditions for the Timorese to vote, not to take any decisions for them,'' he said.

He said Indonesia was only damaging itself in the eyes of the international community by refusing to free detained resistance leader Xanana Gusmao, who is being held under house arrest in Jakarta.

``It is an error,'' Gama said.

Indonesia says that Gusmao, jailed in 1992 for 20 years for guerrilla activities, will only be released after the vote.

Gama said that Portugal, whose hurried withdrawal from East Timor in 1975 helped precipitate the Indonesian invasion, was determined to help the Timorese in establishing an independent state if that was their decision.

He said Lisbon had undertaken studies to assess the likely needs and Portugal's financial contribution, but he declined to give figures.

``We have always said that we will assume our responsibilities,'' he said.

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