The Australian


History's credit to Canberra in referendum

By Foreign affairs writer ROBERT GARRAN and agencies

ALEXANDER Downer applauded yesterday's East Timor ballot as an "extraordinary achievement", for which Australia could take a large share of the credit.

The Foreign Minister strongly rejected suggestions Australia should have pushed Indonesia harder to accept international peacekeepers, telling ABC radio this would have meant the ballot "just wouldn't take place".

Later, in parliament, Mr Downer said the day was historic.

"Today is a day when the people of East Timor, after a quarter of a century of strife, have the opportunity to express their own views about the future of East Timor," Mr Downer said.

"This is an issue of very great importance to Australia and it is an issue of considerable importance to our part of the world. It will mean a great deal to us if it is resolved in a satisfactory way and a democratic way.

"Today is indeed a very historic day."

Mr Downer said the leader of the Australian delegation observing the ballot, Tim Fischer, had told him the situation in East Timor was relatively calm and voting voting procedures smooth.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said yesterday he would be disappointed if East Timorese voted for independence, but would accept their decision.

He said he was filled with "hopeful anticipation".

"After spending so much time, personally, on efforts to find a comprehensive and just solution to the East Timor question, of course I'm very happy that finally now the opportunity has arrived for such a solution," Mr Alatas said.

He also promised the Indonesians would maintain security in the region during the voting period, despite international criticism it was letting pro-Jakarta militias rampage virtually unchecked.

"We are determined to ensure the security," Mr Alatas said.

In Lisbon, Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres promised his country's full support for its former colony, regardless of the outcome of yesterday's vote.

But he said if the vote favoured independence, Portugal would "exert pressure to ensure that a transition takes place as quickly as possible".

"We will be available to provide any support for the Timorese to ensure that an independent East Timor is not left adrift," Mr Guterres said.

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