By Wilson da Silva
SYDNEY – Rebels in Indonesian-ruled East Timor have for the first time proposed to shelve their independence demands as part of a peace plan presented to the United Nations.
José Ramos Horta, special envoy of the rebel Fretilin movement, told Australian radio on Thursday that he had presented a peace plan to the United Nations that would accept Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor for up to 12 years.
Speaking by telephone from Lisbon, Horta said that under the plan, East Timor would be granted limited autonomy within the Indonesian federation. Later, a referendum would be held on whether to stay in Indonesia or seek independence.
“It is possible that after a period of five years ... (then in) a referendum under U.N. supervision the people of East Timor might decide to remain under Indonesia,” he said. “But this is up to the people of East Timor to decide.”
Fretilin members in Australia confirmed the peace plan, and said in the first phase there would be a cessation of all armed activity in East Timor. The territory would be demilitarised over two years and a U.N. legation and humanitarian organisations allowed to return.
Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 after Portugal quit its former colony, but the United Nations still recognises Lisbon as the administrator.
In the second phase of the plan, a governor and local assembly would be elected under U.N. supervision, and more regional autonomy granted to East Timor. At the end of this period, which could be extended by another five years, a referendum would be held to determine the territory’s future.
Horta said the plan was based on a secret proposal drafted by guerrilla leader Xanana Gusmão. He said it would be acceptable to both sides as neither had to renounce its claim to sovereignty.
“It is not backing away from independence,” Horta said. “In any (resolution) we have to have an intermediate stage before moving to self-determination.”
Australian Fretilin organisers were lukewarm on the plan, but confirmed Horta was a Gusmão representative.
“The plan is good to start talks,” said Fretilin’s Alfredo Ferreira from Darwin, only 850 km (530 miles) from East Timor. “But we can’t trust the Indonesians. We have no guarantees that after five years we will get independence.”
World attention was focused on East Timor last November when Indonesian troops opened fire on a crowd at a cemetery in Dili, East Timor’s capital. Jakarta says 50 were killed, but witnesses say the figure is closer to 180.
Timorese guerrillas, led by Gusmão, have been fighting Indonesian troops sporadically since the 1975 invasion, and an estimated 10,000 Indonesian troops are in the territory.