Subject: Habibie defends E Timor policy, again asks for vote ratification

Habibie defends East Timor policy, again asks for vote ratification

JAKARTA, Oct 17 (AFP) - President B.J. Habibie on Sunday again defended his East Timor policy and appealed to Indonesia's highest legislative body to ratify the territory's vote for independence in the name of democracy.

Answering scathing criticism from the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), which must ratify the referendum results, that his government had acted rashly in allowing East Timor to move towards independence, he said parliament was consulted every step of the way.

"As a great nation that highly upholds the fundamental values of the preamble of the 1945 constitution, and in this new era where we are determined to advance democracy and human rights in Indonesia, we have to accept and respect the result of the (East Timor) ballot," Habibie said.

Habibie was replying to accusations by MPR factions that he had not consulted parliament before offering independence to the people of East Timor if they rejected an offer of autonomy under Jakarta.

The MPR factions, commenting on his speech on Thursday accounting for his 17 months in power, also accused the Habibie government of ignoring a 1978 MPR decree that formalized East Timor's 1976 integration into the country.

Habibie said the MPR as well as the lower house or DPR were consulted on the independence option, and that several "strategic decisions" had also been taken following the same procedure.

Among those was advancing the date of the Indonesian general election from 2002 to 1999, he said.

He also said that since the announcement of the autonomy proposal, the foreign minister had regularly consulted with the parliamentary commission on foreign and security affairs.

He also said the draft agreement governing the United Nations poll in East Timor on August 30 had been passed to the commission. The commission, he added, "understood and agreed" on the signing of the agreement in New York on May 5.

"It should also be noted that the entire process of negotiation on East Timor has taken place in an atmosphere of openness and global interdependence ... and under the inevitable pressure of time," Habibie said.

"Time constraints forced the government to act in line with the momentum and we had to adjust ourselves to the speed."

The MPR factions have charged that the resounding defeat of the pro-integrationists in the East Timor referendum was a result of the government acting without enough preparation.

Habibie also said that the government had always stressed that the poll result would have to be approved and ratified by the new MPR, which was formed following the June 7 general election.

"This is clearly reflected in the New York agreement and understood and approved by the UN secretary general, Portugal and the international community," he said.

The result of the poll showed that East Timorese voted four to one against autonomy.

The New York agreement stipulates that if autonomy was rejected, the Indonesian goverment had to take constitutional steps to free East Timor in a peaceful and dignified way.

"The government is under the obligation to report this to the MPR as the highest state institution, to respect the result of the poll and seek a decree (to that effect)," Habibie said.

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