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East Timor offered deal on troops

The Age - February 1, 1999

Paul Daley, Canberra – Indonesia's military intelligence has offered a proposal to the East Timor resistance whereby it would swiftly remove Indonesian troops from the troubled province if former collaborators were protected.

It is believed that Australia became aware of the proposal late last week through its own intelligence sources, after discussions between senior resistance figures and Indonesian military intelligence officers.

Sources said the Indonesian intelligence officers told the resistance that senior military (ABRI) figures were willing to "immediately" withdraw from East Timor on two conditions. The Indonesian officers initiated the discussions.

"The first condition was that they wanted to save some face, having been in Timor for so long, in any withdrawal. There must not be a suggestion that the resistance had beaten them," a source said.

"Secondly, the military intelligence men spoke of their requirement for 'assistance' to be given to their 'friends' in East Timor in such an event.

"What they were saying was that, for want of a better term, they wanted protection to be given to pro-Indonesian sympathisers, people who helped them through the civil service, or intelligence and military circles."

It is understood that the East Timor resistance gave no guarantees to the Indonesian intelligence officers. But the resistance made it clear that a swift ABRI withdrawal was unacceptable if the Indonesian military continued to heavily arm pro-government citizen militias, before their departure.

Australia's knowledge of the Indonesian military's informal proposal contributes to a rapidly developing view in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that Indonesia intends to quickly grant independence to East Timor, without a sustained period of autonomy or an act of self-determination.

While Australia was last week quick to praise Indonesia's "new flexibility" in relation to its East Timor policy, it is believed that the Department of Foreign Affairs views rapid independence as potentially disastrous.

The department also believes that such a path to independence – which would almost certainly spark a civil war between pro and anti-independence factions – would require a massive peace-keeping contribution by Australia.

Meanwhile, Indonesian and Portuguese diplomats arrived in Lisbon and Jakarta yesterday to establish the first diplomatic ties between the two countries since Indonesia's 1975 invasion of East Timor.

Two diplomats from each country are setting up interest sections under the auspices of embassies of friendly nations, the Thai embassy in Lisbon and the Dutch embassy in Jakarta.

Indonesia's Rzlan Ishar Jenie said on his arrival at Lisbon airport that Jakarta was determined to seek a "peaceful and lasting" solution to East Timor. In Jakarta, the head of the Portuguese interests section said she hoped to visit Jose "Xanana" Gusmao at the first opportunity.