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Thursday, May 6, 1999 Published at 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Enthusiasm for Timor deal

East Timor is expected to vote for independence

The signing of a deal which could lead to independence for East Timor - the former Portuguese colony which is currently under Indonesian rule - has been greeted with cautious optimism.

On Wednesday, the foreign ministers of Indonesia and Portugal signed an agreement paving the way for a referendum on autonomy for East Timor.

The referendum is scheduled to go ahead on 8 August.

The BBC's Clare Lyons: Mixed reaction to deal
The Australian ambassador to Indonesia, John McCarthy, arrived in East Timor on Thursday for preliminary meetings, in anticipation of the arrival of a United Nations civilian police force.

Australia, a major regional power, is expected to supply the bulk of the personnel for the UN force.

Earlier, Australian Prime Minister John Howard claimed credit for persuading the Jakarta authorities to accept the settlement.

Indonesia Analyst John Taylor: Vast majority want independence
He said Canberra had a commitment from the Indonesian Government to ensure that proper conditions applied for the conduct of that ballot - though he admitted there was no guarantee that there would be no deviation from the agreement.

'Free Gusmao'

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said that Timorese rebel leader Xanana Gusmao should be released from house arrest in order to help bring peace to the territory.

"I think Xanana Gusmao is a very important component of the peace process in East Timor," Mr Downer said.

Portuguese Foreign Minister Jaime Gama said Lisbon was contributing $10m for the UN operation to prepare for the vote, which is expected to cost up to $45m.

The UN regards Portugal as the legitimate administrative power in East Timor, since Indonesia's 1976 annexation of the territory has never been internationally recognised.


The signing of the accord was greeted with dancing and singing by pro-independence students in the provincial capital, Dili.

But some demonstrators expressed pessimism about whether the accord would bring peace to the territory.

One of the pro-Jakarta groups in East Timor, the Unity, Democracy and Justice Forum, said it welcomed the agreement.

"We look forward to the presence of the United Nations because we think it is necessary to have a third party presence during the ballot," spokesman Basilio Dias Araujo said.

He added he also would not object to the presence of foreign police during the transition, "as long as they stand as a neutral group".

Independence pledge

If the East Timorese reject autonomy, as is widely expected, the Indonesian Government has promised independence to East Timor.

Indonesia Analyst John Taylor: Vast majority want independence
According to the agreement, voters will be asked: "Do you accept the proposed special autonomy for East Timor within the unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia?"

The alternative will be: "Do you reject the proposed special autonomy for East Timor, leading to East Timor's separation from Indonesia?"

No peacekeeping agreement

[ image: Indonesian police will be assisted by UN advisers]
Indonesian police will be assisted by UN advisers
As well as the referendum accord, Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas and Portugal's Jaime Gama signed two other accords dealing with the organisation of the vote and security.

But there is no agreement for a peacekeeping force as pro-independence groups had hoped.

Instead, 250 police advisers will be among the more than 600 UN staff who will be present to help the Indonesian authorities.

Many fear anti-independence militias will create havoc in the run-up to the vote. Despite a peace pledge on 21 April, the violence has continued.

[ image: Some UN officials are already in Dili]
Some UN officials are already in Dili
Under the agreement, the militias must be disarmed and the Indonesian army cut back for the vote to go ahead.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who signed the accord after having played an important role in brokering it, urged all parties not to resort to force and to co-operate with the UN.

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