Subject: WP: Wahid Vows to Get Timor Refugees Home

The Washington Post November 13, 1999

Wahid Vows to Get Timor Refugees Home Steven Mufson, Washington Post Staff Writer

Indonesia's newly elected president, Abdurrahman Wahid, said yesterday he would order Indonesia's air force to fly East Timorese refugees back home and would pardon the country's toppled leader, Suharto, if the former ruler is found guilty of corruption.

Wahid met for an hour with President Clinton, who pledged to support Indonesia's transition to democracy and its economic reforms. Wahid, who is mostly blind, later flew to Salt Lake City for eye surgery.

Administration officials said Clinton urged Wahid to follow through on his commitment to return refugees from East Timor, the territory where violence broke out in early September after a referendum passed in favor of independence. There are still about 180,000 East Timorese refugees in Indonesian-controlled western Timor, intimidated by militias backed by the Indonesian military, U.S. officials said.

"I assure President Clinton . . . that in East Timor we will work very hard to ensure that the refugees from our side of Timor will go freely to their places," Wahid said after the meeting.

Wahid also told reporters that his government would stick to the rule of law and determine whether Suharto is guilty. It is widely believed that in more than 30 years of rule, the former leader had plundered millions, if not billions, of dollars for himself and his family.

But in a nod to the Indonesian military that had given Suharto substantial support, Wahid said he would then pardon Suharto. "Mr. Suharto still has big followers, so we have to be careful not to, let's say, topple the cart," Wahid said.

Wahid assured Clinton, as well as officials he met separately from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, that he would clamp down on corruption. He recently released a previously secret report regarding improper ties between a commercial bank, Bank Bali, and the previous ruling party. The IMF and World Bank, which had suspended talks with Indonesia over the Bank Bali scandal and East Timor crisis, have restarted negotiations over the next installment of loans to the southeast Asian archipelago nation.

Wahid also said he would allow a referendum in Aceh, a region hit by demonstrations for independence. It remained unclear, however, whether Wahid would allow the referendum to be about independence or merely greater autonomy. He said he would negotiate to make sure that any referendum could be held peacefully and fairly, but added, "I think we can resolve that in the next few months."

Clinton, in an effort to quiet suspicions in Indonesia that the United States is seeking to dismember the country, said, "We support the territorial integrity of Indonesia."

A senior administration official who attended the meeting said Wahid also wanted to soothe any anxieties the Clinton administration might have as a result of his proposal that Asian nations form an "axis" to help one another. He has advocated closer ties with India and China.

In his meeting with Clinton, Wahid stressed that such an axis would not be anti-Western and that close ties with the United States were important to Indonesia. "He does not see it as a zero-sum game," said the Clinton administration official. "He said clearly that Indonesia will rely heavily on the West, especially for foreign investment."

------- Indonesia Vice President Megawati to visit W.Timor

DILI, East Timor, Nov 13 (Reuters) - Indonesian Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri will visit West Timor this month to investigate the plight of East Timorese refugees, especially those in pro-Jakarta militia camps, a United Nations official said on Saturday.

``The Indonesian government is eager to see the end of this. These people are a burden on the economy of West Timor,'' U.N. assistant emergency relief co-ordinator Ross Mountain told Reuters.

``The government estimates the relief effort in West Timor has cost them $15 million.''

Mountain recently returned to Dili from two days of meetings with senior Indonesian government officials in Jakarta.

``I was very encouraged by the reaction of the new government ministers and it appears Megawati is going to play a leading role in dealing with this,'' he said.

The visit by Megawati -- who questioned former President B.J. Habibie's decision to allow a vote on independence in East Timor -- could come as early as the end of the coming week, Mountain said. East Timorese voted overwhelmingly to break away from Indonesia on August 30.

Her visit comes amid increasing reports of harassment and intimidation by militiamen against many of the estimated 120,000-150,000 refugees still in West Timor.

Militia groups were also accused of terrorising U.N. staff and thwarting their efforts to repatriate refugees, particularly those near Atambua, 38 km (23 miles) inside the border of the Indonesian province of West Timor.

Mountain said he met Megawati, Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono and armed forces chief Admiral A.S. Widodo during his visit to Jakarta.

``In essence I spoke to them about the situation in the west and, while progress and improvements have been made in the area, what we are particularly concerned about is access to camps,'' Mountain said.

The issue of access to refugees is becoming more critical by the day due to the onset of the rainy season, which poses many health and sanitation problems.


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