The Guardian January 27, 1999


East Timor: for real independence

by Anna Pha

In a shift in policy, the Australian Government has made a proposal to the 
Indonesian Government for reconciliation in East Timor. In the proposal, 
Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer advocates an "act of self-
determination at some stage in the future after a substantial period of 
autonomy".

Downer also urges the Indonesian Government to directly negotiate with East 
Timorese representatives and to release East Timorese resistance leader 
Xanana Gusmao.

While this is a more positive position than previously adopted, it 
represents more of a tactical move than a genuine recognition of the right 
of the East Timorese to genuine self-determination.

The Australian Government is under considerable pressure, both domestically 
and internationally, as the only government in the world to officially 
recognise the occupation and annexation of East Timor by Indonesia.

The Government is also concerned about its position in the light of social 
and political change in Indonesia and the potential instability of ongoing 
conflict in the region.

Downer, in an interview with the media last week, pointed to the rejection 
by the people of East Timor of an offer of autonomy by Indonesian President 
Habibie.

"Many East Timorese have resisted the autonomy idea, as it was offered as a 
once-for-all solution that would extinguish their right to self-
determination ...

"It is against this background that we have considered how the autonomy 
offer might be made acceptable to the East Timorese." 

This is part of the Australian Government's proposal for a process that 
would see East Timor become "autonomous" and remain part of Indonesia.

It would involve Indonesia releasing Xanana Gusmao and negotiating with him 
and other East Timorese representatives, such as Bishop Carlos Bello, on an 
autonomy package with a promise of self-determination after an unspecified 
time.

Downer explains: "... first of all you would have to put in place an 
autonomy package. The people of East Timor [would] have an opportunity to 
see how sincere autonomy really was, how effective that autonomy was, how 
satisfied they were with that and then in the end, give them some years 
down the track the opportunity to pass judgement on whether they wanted to 
continue with that arrangement."

But as East Timor spokesman, Jose Ramos Horta, pointed out last last month, 
if the people of East Timor were to vote now on independence and self-
determination, the vote would be 99 per cent "yes".

Downer's autonomy, which he says would give the people of East Timor a much 
greater say in the management of their own affairs than they have at the 
moment, has no real substance.

Indonesia would retain sovereignty over "issues like foreign policy" with 
"international defence and strategic policy ... left to the Indonesian 
Government".

The troops would remain, as Downer acknowledges.

Indonesia would have the power to negotiate away the oil, mineral and other 
resources of East Timor.

Selling autonomy

"... we don't believe that the Indonesian Government will be able to sell 
an autonomy package to the people of East Timor without offering some sort 
of review mechanism, some act of self-determination at the end of a 
particular period."

There are no guarantees that Indonesia will honour any undertakings, nor 
what form "self-determination" might take.

Indonesia would be free to continue its transmigration program, with 
Indonesians possibly outnumbering East Timorese by the promised date of 
self-determination, if the promise were upheld.

Downer ducks the question of how self-determination would be exercised, 
refusing to answer whether there would be a referendum.

"When we talk about East Timor being part of Indonesia, that is our 
preference, ..."

If the Australian Government were sincere then it would, as a minimum, take 
up the following demands put by the East Timorese people as stated by the 
Australia East Timor Network:

* the total, immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Indonesian troops 
from East Timor;

* the UN to use its political instruments to supervise the withdrawal of 
Indonesian troops from East Timor;

* the immediate and unconditional release of President of the National 
Council of Timorese Resistance, Xanana Gusmao, and all East Timorese 
political prisoners;

* the materialisation of a UN-supervised, free and fair referendum in East 
Timor as the implementation of the right to self-determination of the East 
Timorese in accordance with unanimous UN Security Council Resolution 1514 
of December 22, 1975;

* all states to review and stop their military assistance that has been 
used by the Indonesian military to exterminate the people of East Timor.

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