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Former governor rejects critics

Agence France Presse - February 12, 1999

Karen Polglaze, Jakarta – Indonesia would be solely responsible should civil war break out in East Timor, a member of Indonesian President BJ Habibie's supreme advisory council said here today.

Former East Timor governor Mario Viegas Carrascalao also scorned criticisms that East Timor would be a burden on its neighbours, including Australia, should it become independent.

Carrascalao, a founding member of the Timorese Democratic Union (UDT) political party in 1974, was one of the leaders who in 1976 made the Balibo agreement. Indonesia claims the document is an expression of the East Timorese people's wish to integrate with the republic.

Carrascalao, who said they acted at the time in the belief that they were doing the best thing for their compatriots, acknowledged that those leaders did not have the people's mandate for the agreement.

Carrascalao has also changed his mind in the wake of Indonesia's announcement that it will recommend that its highest legislative body release East Timor should its offer of autonomy within the republic as a final solution fail to be accepted.

"I never fought for independence, but I'm not going to refuse it," he told an Indonesia Australia Business Council lunch in Jakarta. I'm going to do everything in my power to prove to the Indonesian government that we can survive as an independent East Timor."

Carrascalao's UDT launched the ill-fated coup in August, 1975, which led to the civil war, the departure of the administrators of colonial power Portugal, and eventually, the invasion by Indonesia in December that year.

Fears of a new civil war have intensified since Indonesia's offer, but Carrascalao said it was up to Indonesia whether violence was the result of the 27th province's release from the republic.

"We had a civil war in East Timor in 1975 because we had weapons from Portugal," he said. Those weapons have gone. All the weapons we have in East Timor now are from Indonesia. So, it depends on Indonesia. If Indonesia wants a civil war in East Timor, we are going to have a civil war."

A former agriculture department official, Carrascalao said East Timor was able to produce enough food to feed its population. In addition, there were significant resources, such as gold, oil, gas and marble which could be exploited to fund the budget of an independent nation.

Carrascalao said that Dili was closer than Sydney to Darwin, and tourism had vast potential. This included the possibility of tapping into Asian gambling in the mainly Roman Catholic half-island territory casinos did not contravene religious strictures as they did in mostly Muslim Indonesia.

Carrascalao travelled to East Timor after long-serving president Suharto resigned on May 21, to hear views on the future of the province.

He said 3,000 people attended a meeting there, 40 spoke, and only one of the 40 was in favour of integration - East Timor Governor Jose Abilio Soares.

Carrascalao believes that Indonesia will release the province given that most East Timorese will not opt for autonomy. "Once you state an alternative like this, it means the first alternative has been left behind," he said.

Australia recognises Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor, but the United Nations does not. Should Indonesia release the province on January 1, the UN would recognise Portugal as the administrator.

In talks between Portugal and Indonesia, Portugal has proposed it continue, under UN supervision, the decolonisation process interrupted in 1975 with East Timor expected to become fully independent after two years.