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Foreign minister's meeting with Jose Ramos Horta welcomed

ACFOA Statement - February 6, 1997

[It is interesting to note that "self-determination" is not included in ACFOA's recommendations - JB]

The Australian Council for Overseas Aid today welcomed the decision of the Foreign Minister, Mr Alexander Downer, to meet with Mr Jose Ramos Horta in Adelaide on Friday 14 February, 1997.

'Too often, Australia has been seen as an apologist for Indonesoa with no time for East Timorese views', ACFOA Executive Director, Ms Janet Hunt, said today.

This meeting signals a fresh start. It shows that Mr Downer is serious in his search for a lasting solution for East Timor and that he recognises the importance of dialogue with all parties to the conflict', ACFOA Executive Director, Ms Janet Hunt, said today.

'ACFOA strongly supports Mr Horta's call for dialogue and for action to de-militarise East Timor, reduce human rights abuses and release political prisoners. We know that these objectives reflect concerns expressed in the Coalition's pre-election policy', said Ms Hunt. 'However, the reality is that East Timor remains a highly militarised, unhappy place'.

ACFOA urges the Foreign Minister to take a creative approach to the issue and not be paralysed by the fiction that the situation is beyond redemption.

'This is an opportune time for Australia to make a contribution. As the Nobel Peace Prize demonstrates, there is considerable international goodwill for East Timor to draw on. Indonesia is in transition. US President Bill Clinton plans to give more attention to foreign policy in his second term and the new Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan, has admitted that past UN policies have failed and a new approach is needed. With highly competent and seasoned officials like Andrew Peacock in Washington and John McCarthy in Jakarta, Mr Downer is well-equipped to develop a new approach'.

'The alternative is continuing conflict and abuse in East Timor which is moraly unacceptable and, from a pragmatic point of view, is harmful to Australia-Indonesia relations'