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East Timor Negotiating Security Agreement With Indonesia - 2002-05-18

East Timorese officials say they are hammering out an agreement with Indonesia over security arrangements for Sunday's independence celebrations. Six Indonesian Navy vessels entered East Timor's waters on Friday. Jakarta says the ships are providing security for the visit of Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

East Timor's acting Foreign Minister says he is perplexed by what he calls an "excessive" deployment of security for the Indonesian president's visit.

Jose Ramos-Horta said East Timor authorities and the United Nations tried to deal with the six ships discreetly, until they came into view of Dili. "Because of the display of navy hardware, so visible, it became impossible for us to keep the issue within proportion without alarming anyone," he said. "We did not want, as host country, to cause any fears or anxieties in our people or other guests."

One ship docked in Dili to unload a car President Megawati Sukarnoputri will use during her four-hour visit Sunday.

With anti-aircraft guns on its bow, the ship's arrival attracted a crowd to the harbor, the same area where Indonesia launched part of its invasion of East Timor in 1975. Mr. Ramos-Horta said that ship, which also houses medical facilities, will be permitted to stay. The other five have been asked to leave.

Discussions are ongoing about the number of personnel and weapons that Indonesia's security team will be permitted to have for the presidential visit. Mr. Ramos-Horta said the Indonesians are likely to agree to East Timor's request that only 15-members of the security team carry weapons. Indonesia had requested that more than 140 weapons be permitted.

President Megawati is attending the independence celebrations despite criticism by Indonesian legislators. Some lawmakers say Indonesia's decision to grant East Timor independence after 24-years of war was a "blow to national dignity" and that the president should not attend.

Mr. Ramos-Horta said he thinks the Indonesian Foreign Ministry was not aware the navy planned to deploy the ships. He also said the incident does not threaten President Megawati's visit. "We cannot allow the poor judgment of some Navy people to cloud what is otherwise an extraordinary relationship between our two countries," he said.

The East Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia in 1999, and a U.N. peacekeeping mission was deployed shortly after that to help form a new government. The country gains full independence on Monday.