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Saturday, September 4, 1999 Published at 05:50 GMT 06:50 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Habibie accepts Timor result

A lesson in courage and democracy, said Jose Ramos-Horta

Indonesian President BJ Habibie has said his government "respects and accepts" East Timor's overwhelming vote to throw off Indonesian rule.

In a nationally televised address, the Indonesian leader said that the 30 August ballot had reflected "the conscience of our brothers and sisters in East Timor".

Nearly 99% of the eligible voting population turned out to have their say in Monday's historic referendum. Some 78.5% of voters - 344,580 people - chose independence from Indonesia.

[ image: President Habibie: Called on Indonesians to accept vote with grace]
President Habibie: Called on Indonesians to accept vote with grace
President Habibie said he understood how "bitter" the result might be for the Indonesian people, but called on them to accept the outcome with patience and grace.

He said he had told his security forces to take "all steps" to safeguard security in the territory, which has been wracked with violence in recent weeks.

"I also instruct the entire ranks of the Indonesian armed forces to take firm action against all sides who attempt to sully the pride of the nation, undermine the authority of the government and security and public order.

"We should prevent the fall of unnecessary victims from among the innocent people," he added.

Foreign governments, including the United States, Australia and Portugal, have criticised Indonesia for failing to crack down on violence by rampaging pro-Jakarta militias.


Exiled independence campaigner and Nobel peace prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta praised East Timor's bravery in resisting "criminal elements (and) hardliners".

He said: "I am overjoyed. First I pay tribute to my extraordinary people - what a courage, what a lesson of courage and democracy."

[ image: Xanana Gusmao: Warned against a new genocide]
Xanana Gusmao: Warned against a new genocide
In Jakarta, jailed East Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmao said it was a day for celebration.

"The extraordinary success of 30 August was a success of the (East Timorese) people, a success of the elderly, the adults and children of East Timor," he said in a written statement.

But he urged the UN to send a "multinational force to save the (East Timorese) people from a new genocide".

Police officers led him away from the home in the Indonesian capital where he has been under house arrest since February, but he was later reported to have been returned.

'We will do all we can'

The outcome of the vote was also welcomed by the former colonial power, Portugal.

President Jorge Sampaio said it represented the East Timorese people's first irreversible step towards statehood.

East Timor
"Nothing and no-one can deny the victory of the wishes of the people of East Timor," he added, calling on Indonesia to assume its responsibilities for maintaining security in the troubled territory.

Australia hailed the result and pledged to stand by the East Timorese.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said: "We will do all we can to help them move towards independence and to help East Timor, once independence takes place, to become a viable and successful neighbour of Australia's."

East Timorese exiles in Australia celebrated the independence vote, but warned of further bloodshed. About 200,000 people are thought to have died in fighting since Indonesia annexed the territory.

'Victory for all'

Alfredo Ferriera, a spokesman for the National Council for East Timorese Resistance, told ABC radio: "I have tears running down my face with happiness.

"But I'm also sad because we couldn't have all those people who have fought for 25 years alive to participate in this very moment.

"There's a lot of things to be done in East Timor, but the important thing is having fought for all those years to have their say.

"It's a victory for the whole East Timorese people."

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