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Indonesian President May Accept Invitation to Visit E. Timor - 2002-05-02


Xanana Gusmao, the newly elected president of East Timor, did not get an answer when he came to Jakarta Thursday, with an invitation to Indonesian President President Megawati Sukarnoputri to attend the inauguration of his new country later this month.

But officials assured Mr. Gusmao, Indonesia wants to have a good relationship with the East Timor despite the two nations' troubled past. Indonesia's Foreign Minister has said President Megawati Sukarnoputri is still considering whether to go to East Timor for independence celebrations on May 20. "We are considering the response to the invitations that President Megawati has received from the Secretary-General of the United Nations for her to participate personally in the 20th of May celebrations in Dili," Hassan Wirajuda said. He spoke after he met with Xanana Gusmao, East Timor's president-elect. Mr. Gusmao came to Jakarta to deliver the invitation from the U.N. Secretary-General to Ms. Megawati personally.

Ms. Megawati's decision whether to attend East Timor's birth as a nation carries with it some historical baggage. Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 and annexed it the following year. Its rule of the former Portuguese colony was never recognized by the United Nations. In August 1999, the East Timorese overwhelmingly voted for independence in a special U.N.-supervised referendum. But celebrations were short-lived. Anti-independence militia groups, with the alleged backing of elements of the Indonesian military, virtually destroyed the territory and killed hundreds of people in response to the vote. The United Nations took East Timor under its protection to allow the fledgling new country to enact a constitution and elect its leaders. May 20 will mark the withdrawal of the U.N. from East Timor and the official birth of a new nation.

While reluctant to give a definitive answer to the invitation, Mr. Wirajuda made it clear Ms. Megawati does not want to get relations between the two countries off on the wrong foot. "I have said to you, the inclination of the president has been from the very beginning to attend the celebrations," Mr. Wirajuda said. He said Indonesia expects to have a forward looking relationship with East Timor, focused on reconciliation between the two nations for past difficulties.

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