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UN Vote Welcomed by Timorese Rebels

March 12, 1999

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ East Timor’s detained rebel chief today welcomed Indonesia and Portugal’s agreement for a U.N.-sponsored ballot in the troubled territory.

The endorsement of the deal by Jose Alexandre ``Xanana″ Gusmao, who is being held under house arrest in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, bolsters the drive for a vote on autonomy for East Timor.

``Indonesia has taken an important step and proven its commitment to its reform policy,″ Gusmao said in a statement. The rebel is revered by many East Timorese and is a key player in moves to settle the conflict in the former Portuguese colony.

On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced a deal under which East Timorese at home and abroad will be able to vote, hopefully before August, on an autonomy proposal.

Indonesia has said it would grant independence to East Timor if its people reject the autonomy package.

Gusmao, who has been trying to broker peace between pro- and anti-independence groups in East Timor, said it was up to the territory’s 850,000 people to prove their political maturity in the ballot.

Clashes have escalated since Indonesia, which invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975 and annexed it a year later, offered in January to consider independence for the half-island territory.

One activist who wants East Timor to stay part of Indonesia insisted a vote would only lead to more fighting.

``It will create a bloodbath. There are many armed people around,″ said Florentino Sarmento, a pro-Indonesian legislator in the East Timorese capital of Dili.

In Sydney, Australia, East Timorese separatist Jose Ramos Horta said he doubted Indonesia would conduct the poll fairly.

``The Indonesians have not given us any reason to trust them,″ said Ramos Horta, a co-winner of the 1996 Nobel peace prize for his efforts to solve the conflict in his homeland.

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