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Negotiating Autonomy For East Timor

Jamsheed Marker, United Nations Special Envoy to East Timor

We then drew up—the United Nations prepared a paper of a draft autonomy for East Timor, a whole constitution with all—and we started negotiating on that. And these went on as time went on and we tried to find the common ground, and slowly I think we were getting there. Then, of course, came the change in Indonesia, the fall of Suharto, and Habibie took over and we continued our negotiations. And by then there was a big flexibility already discernable in the Indonesian position, until in January of last year Habibie made his dramatic announcement that if East Timor wants to become independent, well, we’ll be happy to do that, happy to give that to them as long as it can be—their will can be freely expressed. And so we—(coughs) excuse me—we had that autonomy proposal, and they said the best way to do it is to present that as a package to the people of East Timor and ask if they accept or reject the autonomy package prepared by the United Nations. And we had to supervise; the United Nations had to supervise this exercise. And so once that happened and we got a target date, then we moved into a different mode, a different phase. But before that could be done, we had to get the agreement of both the sides. So, that was the famous Fifth of May agreement when Portugal and Indonesia decided that the United Nations would conduct what they called a popular consultation—they didn’t want to use the word referendum—a popular consultation on whether the people of East Timor wished to remain as a part of Indonesia or become independent. There was a possibility that—a half a house sort of thing that they would choose to have autonomy for ten years and then take a final decision. That was discussed and considered, but the Indonesians took a firm position: that you decide now, one way or another. And so that’s how the Fifth of May agreement finally was put into place.