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East Timor won't back separatists

Melbourne Age - April 26, 2002

Mark Baker – East Timorese Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta has ruled out any backing for separatist movements within Indonesia once the country achieves its independence next month.

Mr Ramos Horta said freedom fighters in regions including West Papua and Aceh could expect no support or sanctuary from Timorese leaders, who fought for 24 years to win their own struggle against Jakarta's rule.

"We can assure our Indonesian neighbours, brothers and sisters, that East Timor is not going to be a haven for anyone in Indonesia who wishes to dismember the Republic of Indonesia," he said.

"Our first obligation is our national borders, our national interest, our national security and we have to respect our neighbour. Indonesia is facing enormous challenges within and without and East Timor will be the last piece of real estate in the world that would be offered to anyone to aggravate the situation in Indonesia."

Mr Ramos Horta told journalists during a visit to Singapore that despite the personal sentiments that East Timorese might have, they had to recognise that Indonesia would not tolerate any activities across its border that challenged Jakarta's sovereignty.

"There will be no rational-thinking government person in East Timor that would offer a base of support for any group in Indonesia that wishes to secede from Indonesia," he said.

He argued that there was no direct comparison between East Timor's fight against Indonesia's 1975 invasion and the claims of separatist groups within Indonesia. Throughout the struggle of the East Timorese, the foundation of their argument for independence was that Indonesia as the successor state of the Dutch East Indies never had a legitimate claim to the former Portuguese colony of East Timor.

"East Timor was therefore separate from any other claims within the Indonesian Republic. In the 24 years of our struggle ... we never once said that we support self-determination equally for Aceh or Irian Jaya [Papua]."

Mr Ramos Horta said he was optimistic that Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri would attend the independence celebrations in Dili on May 20, despite opposition within sections of the Indonesian bureaucracy. "She would be honoured by our people and she would show herself to be a stateswoman, and she probably would be the star of the event," he said.

Mr Ramos Horta also said East Timor would resist strongly opposition from within the Association of South-East Asian Nations to the new nation's early admission to the regional grouping.

He confirmed that Burma was lobbying against the granting to East Timor of even observer status with ASEAN because of the long-standing support of the Timorese resistance for the Burmese democracy movement and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Other ASEAN members are arguing for delayed membership because of the poor state of the Timorese economy.