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East Timor Considers Independence Offer from Indonesia


East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, was invaded in 1975 by the Indonesian military, which has since then killed 200,000 Timorese. New Indonesian president Habibie's administration has recently offered first limited autonomy, then full independence to East Timor. The most recent offers, first by Defense Minister Ali Alatas, then Habibie, were for independence within one year. According to Timorese student Luciano de Conceicao, while the transfer of resistance leader Xanana Gusmao from prison to house arrest is a positive sign, the Indonesian government's rejection of a proposed Timorese referendum on independence makes its sincerity questionable. This is in addition to the arming by the Indonesian military of anti-separatist militia groups within East Timor. The Indonesian government claims to have only provided 100 weapons, while Timorese residents claim that 7000 automatic weapons have been distributed. De Conceicao urged US citizens to put pressure on the state department, which has not followed the European Union and Australia in changing its Indonesian policy to favor Timorese independence. There is concern, however, that Habibie will grant full independence too quickly, and leave the region unable to govern itself while flooded with weapons. In mid-February, a meeting was planned between the Indonesian and Portuguese Foreign Ministers to discuss a plan for either limited autonomy or independence for East Timor.

Jim Murphy of the Boston East Timor Action Network interprets the Indonesian offers as "trial balloons" sent by the new power elite of Indonesia to sense the political climate on the issue in both Indonesia and Timor. Murphy also stresses that the oppression of the estimated 17,000 Indonesian troops has led to the internal displacement of Timorese within the last year, primarily to the region around the capital city of Dili. These troops were, until recently, trained and armed by the US military. Training was conducted under the auspices of first the Indonesian Military Education and Training (IMET) Program, then the Joint Combined Education and Training (JCET) Program, both funded by congress. Murphy and others suspect that training under JCET is ongoing, despite its official cancellation.

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