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Portugal suspends talks on massacre report

Associated Press - November 20, 1998 (abridged)

Lisbon – Portugal Friday suspended a New York meeting with the United Nations and Indonesia over East Timor, following intelligence reports of a massacre in the disputed territory, officials said Friday.

Foreign Minister Jaime Gama told Portuguese negotiators to suspend a meeting scheduled for Friday between the UN, Portugal and Indonesia because of information received from East Timorese sources about an alleged massacre of civilians, Foreign Ministry spokesman Horacio Cesar said.

At the negotiating table was a UN proposal to grant a broad autonomy for the half-island territory 1,900 kilometers from the Indonesian capital Jakarta.

The number of casualties, the site and the exact date of this week's alleged massacre in the former Portuguese colony weren't immediately clear, Cesar said.

The UN Secretary-General's personal envoy to East Timor, Jamsheed Marker, was to meet the Portuguese and Indonesian negotiators Saturday in New York to brief them on the UN's attempt to verify the reports, he added. A UN spokesman in New York, Manuel de Almeida, said by phone, "There is a pause (in the talks), while the UN verifies this information."

Also Friday, Prime Minister Antonio Guterres sent Annan a message expressing Portugal's "apprehension and condemnation, should the reports of a new massacre of the East Timorese people be confirmed," the Portuguese news agency Lusa reported.

Hopes for a solution to the East Timor dispute were raised by the resignation of Indonesia's strongman President Suharto in May but have since been dampened by the failure of his successor, President B.J. Habibie, to fulfill promises to reduce Indonesian military presence.

Earlier Friday, military sources in the Indonesian capital Jakarta said the situation in the East Timor village of Alas was tense, following a clash Tuesday between Indonesian soldiers and rebels who are waging a low intensity guerrilla war in favor of independence.

An East Timor resistance spokesman in Lisbon, Roque Rodrigues, said his group was trying to contact sources in Dili to "assess the magnitude," of the latest alleged massacre.