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Indonesia, East Timor Work Together to Resolve 'Technical' Issues - 2002-10-08


Indonesia and East Timor have agreed on some issues unresolved since East Timor broke free of Indonesian rule three years ago. Foreign ministries of both countries announced Tuesday that a general agreement has been reached on the return of remaining East Timorese refugees and the demarcation of their common border.

Officials said two days of meetings between the Indonesian and East Timorese foreign ministries where substantive and helped resolve a number of technical issues left between the two nations.

Hassan Wirajuda, Indonesia's foreign minister, said groups from both countries are nearing the end of the process of demarcating the border between the new nation of East Timor and the Indonesian province of West Timor. "Actually, both sides have conducted aerial surveillance, so what we need is actually to put the marks on the map and to put signs along the border. So, we visualize that we will be able to reach the target as we agreed, by next year," he said.

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, became independent of Indonesian rule in November 1999 after a wave of violence carried out by anti-independence militia groups. In the months immediately following independence, militias remained active along the border between East and West Timor. Aid workers charged that the militias' activity prevented tens of thousands of East Timorese refugees, who had fled into Indonesia, from returning home.

East Timor's foreign minister, Jose Ramos Horta, says the security situation along the border has now improved dramatically. Of the roughly 35,000 refugees, he expects half to return to East Timor by December. "The other half will elect to stay on in the region for different reasons, family reasons. Some are still afraid of returning, but it is the determined position of the two sides and concluding by UNHCR that by December, these fighters should close," Mr. Horta said.

The countries agreed to form five working groups to deal with such issues as trade, informal border crossings, transportation, and cultural issues. The two governments are also working on an agreement on assets left in East Timor by Indonesian corporations.

One possible arrangement would allow Indonesian companies to hold equities or to take part in joint ventures with new East Timorese firms.

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