Jakarta – The newly-launched Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) lashed out at President B.J. Habibie for calling East Timor "a burden" and called on the nation to let go of the troubled territory. Chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri made the call in a gathering of 120,000 supporters marking the formal establishment of PDI Perjuangan – named thus in order to differentiate it from the government-backed PDI under Budi Hardjono – at Senayan Stadium in Central Jakarta here on Sunday.
"We became very sad upon hearing that East Timor, the so called burden of this nation, will be set free on Jan. 1, 2000. It is not right to set the East Timorese up as an object of government interest ... namely to merely run away from an obligation," Megawati noted.
Habibie said on Thursday that by next year he wanted an independent East Timor in order to free Indonesia from the burden posed by the province. "The burden is not East Timor, Aceh or Jakarta. The burden is when the people's sovereignty is being overridden by power," Megawati reiterated.
"Mixed statements from bureaucrats are only aimed at blurring the actual problems and responsibilities and lead people to further confusion and only trigger chaos, " Megawati charged.
Her advisor, Kwik Kian Gie, said after the gathering that Habibie's administration did not have the right to decide on independence for East Timor. "It is the right of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), not Habibie " Kwik said.
"If he said he wanted to make a suggestion on East Timor to the assembly, he's completely crazy. Why? Because the first item on the agenda of the MPR is to replace him".
"He cannot make the suggestion to the assembly after his replacement, can he? I think he made a tremendous mistake here. East Timor is a national problem, not a matter of a budgetary burden," he said.
However, Kwik said Habibie did not have a political interest in East Timor. "He just does not comprehend the matter ... he may know a lot about planes but nothing about statesmanship."
A referendum is also not a good option he added. "What happened there was huge mismanagement of a province. That we have to work on," he said.
When asked about mounting demands for East Timor's independence, Kwik said that claims of such a call had never been backed up by effort to gauge what the East Timorese really wanted.
"Who wants East Timor to be free? Is it the silent majority or the vocal minority? So far the ones we've heard calling for freedom are Ramos Horta who doesn't even live in East Timor and Xanana Gusmao who has been living six years away from there.
"I've heard reports from 12 branches of our party there ... they do not wish to be freed," Kwik said.
Separately, Antara reported Saturday the government will allow a reasonable period of transition if the people of East Timor choose independence with the help of international support.
"We don't want to be accused of being as irresponsible as Portugal which left East Timor in the lurch years ago," presidential advisor Dewi Fortuna Anwar, said in an interview with the news agency.
Meanwhile a 25-year-old man identified as Bendito Bernardo Pirres of Bairopite village in East Dili district, East Timor, died after being shot in the head Sunday, Antara reported.