Subject: AFP: Indon plans quick withdrawal if E.Timor rejects autonomy
Date: Thu, 26 Aug 1999 05:00:06 EDT

Indonesia plans quick withdrawal if East Timor rejects autonomy

DILI, East Timor, Aug 26 (AFP) - Indonesian troops will pull out of East Timor within six months if East Timor rejects autonomy in a landmark referendum next week, an Indonesian spokesman said Thursday.

The announcement came as thousands of people took part in the final rally backing Indonesian sovereignty in the former Portuguese colony which will vote on its future next Monday.

If the people of East Timor reject autonomy under Indonesian rule, Foreign Minister Ali Alatas and armed forces chief General Wiranto want a gradual withdrawal to prevent a security vacuum, said Indonesian government task force spokesman Dino Djalal.

"Alatas and Wiranto have said three to six months ... we don't want to leave a vacuum here, there has to be some continuity," Djalal said.

There are between 12,000 and 15,000 Indonesian military and 8,000 police in East Timor, according to foreign military observers.

Djalal said he was unable to give a firm date for ratification of the vote by Indonesia's People's Consulative Assembly (MPR).

But the assembly is to convenes on October 1 and he said it could be passed by mid-October.

There are mounting fears of violence as pro-Indonesian leaders have warned of guerrilla warfare if the referendum is only narrowly one by separatists.

The United Nations has said it will strengthen its civilian police force in East Timor after the vote, and the UN Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) sources say there could be a change in their advisory role.

Representatives from Indonesia, Portugal and the United Nations were to meet in Lisbon on Thursday to discuss further measures for East Timor after the vote.

The task force spokesman told reporters the choice East Timorese make on Monday will be final. "This is a permanent choice, there is no going back."

After some 10,000 independence supporters marched in Dili on Wednesday, the pro-Indonesian show of force began in a cloud of engine exhaust as close to 200 motorycles led off a procession near the headquarters of the Aitarak militia in Dili.

In contrast to the previous day's festive atmosphere, some residents said the militia had hijacked many vehicles for the rally.

At the UNAMET headquarters, many local volunteer workers had their motorcycles seized by the militia, UNAMET spokesman David Wimhurst said.

Aitarak commander Eurico Guterres, wearing battle fatigues and a red beret, was among the motorcycle riders who toured the city before a scheduled rally on a soccer pitch.

Aitarak youths blocked the road in front of the Mahkota hotel and other points in the city for the rally.

An AFP reporter counted close to 200 buses and trucks but an organizer, Tito Baptista, said there were more than 800 vehicles.

Baptista, chairman of an alliance of pro-autonomy organizations, said his parade was twice as large as Wednesday's rally by independence supporters and it showed "that we're more powerful."

Yells of "Autonomy lives" were shouted and one flag proclaimed "Dead or alive, constantly red and white" -- the colours of the Indonesian flag.

Some people danced on the roofs of buses and one man pointed a handgun in the air. But many others in the parade remained silent and looked unsure why they were there.

Some 430,000 East Timorese are expected to vote Monday to accept or reject an offer of autonomy within Indonesia, which invaded the former Portuguese territory in 1975.

The 20-day campaign period ends on Friday, allowing a two-day cooling-off period before the vote.

About 203 cannisters of ballot papers arrived from the Australian city of Darwin at Dili airport. UN spokesman Wimhurst said they would be airlifted directly to the 200 polling centers throughout the territory.

Also fanning out in the districts were some 50 more UN volunteer electoral officers to bolster 400 already on the ground.

Wimhurst said ballot boxes would remain under heavy guard until they were put in place between 5:30 a.m. (2130 GMT Sunday) and 6:30 a.m. on Monday, after which polls would open.

Wimhurst also said a UN High Commission for Refugees food convoy had left early Thursday for the western township of Suai, to feed some 2,500-3,000 refugees sheltering from militia violence in a churchyard.

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