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US bans use of its weapons in East Timor

Suara Merdeka - October 24, 1998

Washington (Agencies) – The United States on Wednesday banned the use in East Timor of weapons supplied to Indonesia and continued a ban on education and training aid to the Indonesian Armed Forces. President Bill Clinton signed the restrictions into law as part of a massive US$500 billion catch-all spending bill sent to him by Congress on Wednesday, which included US foreign aid programs.

With this legislation, Washington stated that any weapons sold to Indonesia could not be used in East Timor, Reuters said. "This could be the most support any Congress has shown for East Timorese rights since Indonesia first invaded it in 1975," the East Timor Action Network said.

Indonesia insists East Timor integrated into the country in 1976, one year after it entered the territory to help quell a local civil war. The United Nations still regards Portugal as the administering power of its former colony.

The group's Washington representative Lynn Fredriksson said the action was seen as a signal to President B.J. Habibie and the Indonesian military that the United States continued to find "the occupation of East Timor unacceptable". Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI) spokesman Maj. Gen. Syamsul Maarif could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Training between the two countries is banned under a program known as International Military Education and Training (IMET) but continues under a separate program known as Joint Combined Exchange Training, run by the Pentagon.

The US administration has defended the training against congressional criticism as a way to enhance American military readiness and increase US engagement with Indonesia. Congress cut Indonesian military participation in IMET in 1992 in response to the November 1991 shooting in Dili, the East Timor capital.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Thursday pro-independence violence appeared to have died down in East Timor. Annan, who last week appealed for an end to violence in East Timor, also said UN-mediated talks with Indonesia about the future of the territory appeared to be going smoothly.

Anti-Indonesian protests broke out after Governor Abilio Jose Osorio Soares told civil servants they risked being fired if they opposed Indonesia's proposals on granting autonomy, but not independence, to East Timor. "We were worried about the violence that we noticed in the (East Timor) region," Annan told a news conference during a visit to Tokyo. "From the accounts that I'm receiving, it seems that it has died down but I can't say that it is entirely over," Annan said. He said the UN also wants Indonesia to cut its troop numbers in East Timor and release political prisoners as part of a peace settlement. "They (Indonesia) have indicated that will be done, so we will be monitoring that very closely," Annan said.

ABRI recently pulled out combat troops from the territory, and those who remain are said to be involved only in community development programs.

Antara reported on Thursday that the United Nations assistant to the secretary-general, Tamrat Samuel, had made a sudden visit to Baucau, some 130 kilometers east of Dili, to meet with Bishop Basilio do Nascimento.

Bishop Basilio was among the organizers of last month's talks among East Timor figures in Dare. The meeting issued the Dare communique which among others recognized two aspirations regarding East Timor: the preference for a referendum and the preference for the government's proposal of special autonomy.

Samuel arrived in Dili on Wednesday and had talks with local government officials, proautonomy groups and Dili diocese Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo.