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Wednesday, April 28, 1999 Published at 12:51 GMT 13:51 UK

UK Politics

UK minister backs East Timor poll

East Timor will vote on autonomy in August

The UK is to back an UN supported poll on autonomy in East Timor, Foreign Office Minister Derek Fatchett has announced during an official visit to the disputed territory.

In the first visit to East Timor by a UK government minister since the Indonesian invasion in 1975, Mr Fatchett met Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Bishop Carlos Belo and a number of leading figures from pro-Indonesian groups.

"The UN agreement, backed by responsibility and reconciliation, offers the best way forward," Mr Fatchett said in a statement released before his arrival in Dili, the capital of East Timor.

[ image: Indonesian President, B.J. Habibie announces East Timor poll]
Indonesian President, B.J. Habibie announces East Timor poll
Details of the poll, due to be held on 8 August, were announced by Indonesian President, B J Habibie after talks with Australian Premier, John Howard on the island of Bali on Tuesday.

The UK will be part of a six nation team supervising the poll which also includes Australia, Japan, the United States, Germany and the Philippines.

After his meeting with Mr Fatchett, Bishop Belo, the 1996 Nobel laureate and a key representative of the independence movement, confirmed Britain's intention to back the August poll.

Bishop Belo said he was pleased that Britain wanted to help "solve peacefully the problems of East Timor."

[ image: Derek Fatchett, first UK minister to visit East Timor since 1975]
Derek Fatchett, first UK minister to visit East Timor since 1975
In other meetings, the UK minister met with East Timor's pro-Indonesian governor. Abilio Osorio Soares, told Mr Fatchett that partial autonomy was a better solution because a ballot would foment more conflict.

"If the consultation takes place, there will be a feeling that someone has won and someone has lost," said Expedito Ximenes, spokesman for the governor.

Mr Fatchett also planned to meet East Timor's military commander, Colonel Tono Suratman, who has been accused of doing little to curb attacks on civilians by pro-Indonesian militiamen.

The Indonesian military has confirmed that it has armed the pro-Jakarta militia but has said that they are supposed to be neutral auxiliaries to the police force.

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