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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

5 February 1999

At the outset of the briefing, the Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary- General, Manoel de Almeida e Silva, said that last Thursday, 28 January, the current round of senior officials' talks on East Timor had begun at United Nations Headquarters. The talks had been chaired by the Secretary-General's Personal Representative for East Timor, Ambassador Jamsheed Marker of Pakistan.

Ambassador Marker said the senior officials' deliberations were still being conducted, but he hoped they would conclude this afternoon. They covered the wide-ranging autonomy plan, which had been proposed on the basis of the mandate given by the Secretary-General and the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia and Portugal, on 5 August 1998, to guide those talks. At that time, the Ministers had agreed that the senior officials meeting should hold in-depth discussions on Indonesia's proposals for a special status based on a wide-ranging autonomy for East Timor, without prejudice to their basic positions of principle -- namely, that Indonesia wanted autonomy for East Timor as a definitive solution, while Portugal would only consider autonomy for a transitional period until the people exercised the right to self- determination.

Both sides had agreed to search for common ground in between those two positions which would help the process forward, Ambassador Marker added.

He went on to say that, shortly after assuming his current position, Secretary-General Kofi Annan had placed great emphasis on the problem of East Timor, and had sought to intensify the negotiations in the search for a solution. Since then, he had been following the matter closely and guiding the deliberations.

In October 1998, the United Nations had submitted a proposal which could serve as a blueprint for self-administration in East Timor -- either for a permanent or transitional autonomy, he said. The proposal had been discussed at the October session of the senior officials' meeting and the two Governments had formally responded to it during the November round of discussions. In the course of those and the present talks, the proposal had been refined and many differences narrowed. The document had been enriched through the United Nations consultations with East Timorese leaders, including Xanana Gusmao.

The Organization's consultations with the East Timorese would be intensified in the coming weeks and months, he said. In earlier stages, many East Timorese had felt excluded from negotiations taking place in distant New York, in which decisions could be taken that affected their future. The Secretary-General had been clear on that point: the East Timorese people had to be kept informed and their views solicited and incorporated into the discussions, to avoid a situation like "Hamlet without the prince". The Ambassador emphasized that he was very conscious of the importance of keeping the East Timor political leadership informed about what was going on and taking into account their views as to what to do.

The Austrian Government had generously placed facilities at their disposal where the Timorese leaders -- from the diaspora and East Timor itself -- could meet in a pleasant and informal atmosphere, he said. At these discussions, which lasted several days, a wide range of issues had been addressed and differences narrowed.

The document, which he hoped would be completed this afternoon, would be submitted to the Secretary-General and the two Foreign Ministers, he said. Obviously, there were still areas of disagreement within the text itself, but those "square brackets" related to the respective positions of the Indonesian side and the Portuguese side. The document, in many ways, could stand by itself and could form a useful basis for a constitution for East Timor, whatever form it took. It covered in detail matters including electoral and judicial processes and citizenship. Having reached an understanding to the extent possible, it was now as though a curtain had come down on the first phase of negotiations and was about to go up on act II. The process was ongoing, he stressed.

The document could not now be made public, he said. After being considered by the Secretary-General and the two Ministers, it would have to be submitted to the East Timorese leadership for their views.

In the meantime, there had been other developments, he continued. The Indonesian Government had made an announcement about "a second option" to address the East Timor situation. The Secretary-General had invited the two Foreign Ministers, Ali Alatas of Indonesia and Jaime Gama of Portugal, to meet with him over the weekend and on Monday, 8 February. Ambassador Marker would be meeting with the Ministers separately and possibly together on Sunday. On Monday, discussions would take place with the Secretary-General and the two Foreign Ministers: they would meet from the morning through the afternoon, hopefully resulting in a more definitive idea of what steps were next.

He drew special attention to the importance of maintaining peace in East Timor. The deteriorating law and order situation and disquieting reports about an increase in the volume of arms in the territory were sources of serious concern. Xanana Gusmao had made an appeal in that connection, as had the bishops and others, and he hoped the appeals would be heeded.

A correspondent asked what the Ambassador had meant by "option II". He explained that he had been quoting the Indonesian Foreign Minister who had said that the proposal was option II. He would have to wait and find out from the Indonesian Government exactly what their position was, which had not been formally conveyed as yet, but would probably be clarified over the weekend.

Except for the question of whether the autonomy would be transitional or final, was everything else settled? a correspondent asked. The Ambassador said agreement had been reached on all the elements where it was reasonably possible. However, the process had been constrained by the basic difference in positions, which now had to be taken into account before further progress could be made.

Asked for more details on the meeting at the ministerial level this weekend, the Ambassador said he would be presenting to the Ministers and the Secretary-General the work that had been done so far, in terms of the wide- ranging autonomy proposals, and get their direction on points where there were square brackets. Also, he hoped Indonesia's Foreign Minister would explain what he had meant by "option II" and the offer of independence by East Timor. Depending on what he said and the Portuguese Foreign Minister's reaction, the Secretary-General would be able to chart the next phase.

To a question about a possible United Nations presence in East Timor, the Ambassador said that was an exercise in itself and would involve a whole series of negotiations. A correspondent asked whether the United Nations would establish a transitional administration to prepare the Territory for independence, if Indonesia left East Timor as Portugal had in 1975. The Ambassador said Indonesia's Foreign Minister had specifically said that Indonesia did not intend to abandon East Timor the way Portugal did in 1975. The matter would be discussed when the Ministers met with the Secretary- General.

East Timorese activists had indicated that they would like a three-year transition period prior to independence -- was this being discussed? a correspondent asked. That went beyond the current mandate, but the matter would probably be discussed when the Foreign Ministers met with the Secretary- General, Ambassador Marker answered.

A correspondent -- stating that Indonesia was prepared to accept either independence or autonomy so long as that determination was made at the tripartite negotiations -- asked whether the United Nations Charter defined what could be accepted as a legitimate expression of self-determination. The Ambassador said he thought there had to be a political process of some form -- there were many ways of ascertaining it with a degree of certainty. He would have to wait and see what the substance of the Indonesian proposal was and examine it from that point of view.

Asked whether certain parts of the document could be agreed to, the Ambassador said he did not think that at the current time it could be selectively applied in East Timor. However, some of the ideas in it could be used administratively.

A correspondent asked why some East Timorese activists seemed nervous about accepting an offer of immediate independence. The Ambassador said that, although a large majority of East Timorese supported independence, such support was not unanimous, for a variety of reasons. Aware of that fact, some would prefer a transitional period so that the situation did not deteriorate into some type of civil war.

To questions about East Timorese involvement, the Ambassador said Jose Ramos Horta had been involved in discussions, and also the Church had a very important role to play. The two bishops with whom he had met were impressive and had extensive contacts all over the Territory. Whenever anyone from the United Nations was there, they had always had long meetings with them, and had been guided by what they had said. They were very much part of the process, he stressed.

How far did the proposed autonomy extend? a correspondent asked. Ambassador Marker said the principle was that it did not cover matters of external defence, foreign affairs and financial matters. The latter was not quite as clear-cut as the other two, and even in the former, there were certain problems. For example, possibilities for East Timorese to participate in international organizations, such as the Portuguese-speaking Union, were being examined.

How would East Timorese be asked whether or not they accepted the autonomy plan? a correspondent asked. The Ambassador said that, through intensive ongoing consultations, the East Timorese were already aware of some of the contents and, for the moment, that process would continue. However, it would depend on decisions to be taken next week.

Had all parties on the East Timorese side agreed that the document would serve as the basis of a constitution for an independent East Timor? The Ambassador said the main elements of the proposal had been conveyed to them and feedback from them had been received.

A correspondent asked about points that could not be settled. Those arose from the different positions of principle of the two sides, the Ambassador stressed. There were alternate drafts, depending on which principle was adopted. The negotiating parties were the United Nations, Indonesia and Portugal, with close contact with the East Timorese people, he clarified.

To questions regarding the build-up of arms, Ambassador Marker said he had raised with the Indonesia Government reports that the country was arming pro-integrationist East Timorese and civilian militias. He had received assurances that Indonesia was not arming citizens. He was not in a position to say who was arming who. It was a serious concern that there were arms on both sides, which led to the danger of conflict. The method for disarming was not the problem -- there were various ways to do that. Rather, there had to be more fundamental agreement on the issue, which would be discussed over the weekend.

A correspondent asked whether transition was possible before civilians and rebels were disarmed. The fact that the negotiations were taking place and that the Ministers were meeting with the Secretary-General over the weekend were already significant steps in the transition process, the Ambassador said. Disarmament and the non-use of weapons were important items that stood by itself. He did not want to link it to a process of transition. He did not want to wait to start disarming people until the agreement was signed, for example. He would have wanted disarmament to have started yesterday.

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