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Downer meets with Gusmao

AFX-ASIA - February 25, 1999

Jakarta – Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said he discussed with East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao ways to reduce the violence in the province.

"I am certainly very impressed by the commitment of Xanana Gusmao to the most important process in East Timor, which is reconciliation," Downer told journalists yesterday after meeting Gusmao, who is under house arrest in Central Jakarta.

Downer called Gusmao "one of the central figures to ensuring a smooth and stable transition in East Timor to a new status." Gusmao's lawyer Hendardi, speaking separately, said discussions between Downer and Gusmao were focused on the recent violence in East Timor and the reconciliation process.

"A settlement [in East Timor] can be started with a first phase, that is the disarmament of all sides in the conflict, both the guerrillas and armed civilians," Hendardi said about the agreement between the two men.

He said they discussed a "consultation process" between Australia and Gusmao concerning the options offered by the government of Indonesia but he did not elaborate.

"The Australian government will be happy to help East Timor through this period of transition. The Australian government will be happy to help East Timor in whatever it chooses, between autonomy and independence," Downer said.

He had earlier been quoted by leading Indonesian politician Amien Rais after a meeting as saying Australia was also prepared to financially assist East Timor during the transition period. Gusmao, according to Hendardi, also aired his proposal for a UN police force.