Johannesburg – South African President Nelson Mandela said on Tuesday the former Portuguese colony of East Timor should be awarded autonomy from Indonesia to end conflict over the territory.
"The basis of my representation to (Indonesian) President Suharto was that autonomy should be given to the people of East Timor," Mandela told a news conference after meeting East Timor leader and co-winner of the 1966 Nobel Peace Prize, Catholic bishop Carlos Belo.
Mandela, stretching his peacemaking efforts around the globe in his last years in active politics, met jailed East Timorese rebel leader Xanana Gusmao on a visit to Indonesia last month and discussed his case with President Suharto, who is also due to visit South Africa in November.
Gusmao was jailed for 20 years in 1992 for resisting Indonesian rule. Portugal abandoned its former Asian colony in 1974.
Indonesia, which includes the western half of Timor island, invaded the territory the next year and annexed it in 1976 in a move never recognised by the United Nations.
Mandela, deepening his efforts to end conflict in East Timor, said he had met Belo to brief him on the meetings he had had with other leaders in his efforts to facilitate a peaceful solution.
The president said, however, he could not elaborate on their discussions, since success depended on confidentiality.
Mandela also made it clear that he was merely trying to assist U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in peace efforts, and that peace in East Timor ultimately depended on the people and leaders of the region.
"A solution in East Timor is not something that can be achieved by people outside East Timor. The leaders of East Timor and the Indonesian government are the people who are going to solve this matter," Mandela said.
Mandela has also held talks in South Africa on the issue with East Timor resistance leader Jose Ramos-Horta and Portugal's President Jorge Sampaio.