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Gus Dur, Megawati reject Timor initiative

Kompas - January 30, 1999 (summarised)

In statements which differ from those expressed by the government on East Timor, Abdulrachman Wahid of the NU and Megawati of the PDI both said they reject the government's proposal that Indonesia should let East Timor leave the Republic.

In reply to questions, Gus Dur – as Abdulrachman is popularly known – said there was no benefit in the shortterm to hanging on to East Timor but since the government has taken a decision to make East Timor a part of Indonesia, "we must respect that and Timor should remain a part of Indonesia".

As for Megawati she said in a press release that the Habibie government is a transitional government, not a government based on a general election and it therefore has no authority to take such a fundamental decision. "East Timor's integration into Indonesia is politically and constitutionally legal as it represents the expressed wish of the East Timorese people as respected in Law No 7, 1976."

Gus Dur said it was not yet clear to him what the government has in mind as statements by Foreign Minister Alatas and Interior Minister Syarwan Hamid appear to differ. He welcomed the decision to give special detention status to Xanana Gusmao and said he had proposed for some time that Xanana should be released.

Megawati said the PDI was afraid that letting East Timor go would provoke conflicts among the Timorese, resulting in more casualties and instability, as well as national disintegration. The position of the government was extremely irresponsible and it had exceeded its powers. Gus Dur insisted that a referendum continues to be the best alternative for solving the East Timor question.

Other comments sought by Kompas were along the same lines, that the government could not just let East Timor go. Besides being irresponsible, this might lead to a civil war in East Timor. Political commentator Arbi Sanit was of the same opinion. he said that a referendum was the best and most democratic way forward. "We need to hear the views of the East Timorese people themselves," he said.

Australian ambassador has also reiterted his government's view, that of supporting Indonesia in giving East Timor broadest possible autonomy, while allowing the people to determine their own future.

Another political commentator, Dr Mochtar Pabottingi, said it would not be a positive action for the government to let go of East Timor. They should prepare the population there so that the process would not be followed by disturbances and civil war.

"The readiness to let the territory go is a good one but doing it so suddenly is not right. All the necessary preparations should be made. It will not be good for the territory to be separated at a time where there is no common agreement among the people there."