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East Timor, Indonesian Relations Turn Rocky


The generally good relations between East Timor and Indonesia have soured following the completion of a report detailing atrocities committed in East Timor during Indonesian rule.

The new tensions between Indonesia and East Timor became apparent after Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyo canceled a meeting with his East Timor counterpart, Xanana Gusmao.

The cancellation of the meeting, which was to have been held last week, came a few days after President Gusmao presented a report highly critical of Indonesia to the United Nations Security Council.

The report says Indonesia was responsible for the deaths of as many as 180,000 East Timorese during its 1975 to 1999 occupation. It was prepared by the Commission for Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation in East Timor, or CAVR, which is funded by donor nations.

Many of those deaths, the report says, were a result of starvation and disease caused by Indonesian policies. It also says Indonesia used napalm, torture and sexual abuse against independence supporters.

Jakarta denies the charges.

Indonesia says the meeting will take place soon and that the cancellation was due to a scheduling conflict.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yuri Thamrin says Jakarta is confident the meeting will put relations back on a smoother path, although no date has been set. He says, however, East Timor and Indonesia's perspective on the past differ. "We're optimistic that as neighbors we are determined really to solidify, to strengthen, to make it closer our bilateral relationship," said Thamrin. "The determination is there even at the highest level. C.A.V.R. report is something of Timor Leste's version of the story, of course."

Pro-Jakarta militias - many backed by the Indonesian military - killed at least 1,000 people after East Timor voted for independence in 1999.

Asmara Nababan, the head of the private Institute for Human Rights and Democracy Studies in Jakarta, says relations between the two nations will likely smooth out over the long run.

He says the leaders of both countries want good relations for security and economic reasons. He says, however, that hard-liners in the Indonesian military remain reluctant to improve relations with East Timor. "We will see - if the influence of this hardliner military decrease, then there is really chance for both countries to look for justice," he said. "Now these elements of the military - former chiefs, top generals from '98, '99 who are involved in these atrocities - still have an influence right now in the government."

Indonesia and East Timor have held tribunals on the violence that surrounded the independence vote.

All Indonesian military and police personnel prosecuted by Jakarta were either acquitted or freed on appeal.

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