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East Timor.



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OFFICE OF THE MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

 

DATE: Monday, August 30, 1999

VENUE: Parliament House

TITLE: East Timor

 

Question:

 

Are you confident that the two parties will honour the Peace Accord?

 

Mr Downer:

 

All I can say is we will have to wait and see. My experience of these accords that have taken place over the last few months, is that the proof of them is in the practice not in the words.

 

Question:

 

Have you heard any words today from Dili?

 

Mr Downer:

 

I have had some early reports which have been passed to me. This ballot is a once in a generation opportunity to resolve the problem of East Timor. I think Australia and many Australians can take great pride in the enormous amount of work they have done to help bring this ballot about. It is, I hope, going to be a relatively peaceful day and I hope a lot of people will vote. There are over 450,000 people registered to vote and we would obviously like to see a sizeable percentage of those people exercise their democratic right. So far I have heard that there are very substantial queues for voting, including in the town of Maliana which is one of the most strife torn parts of East Timor, so that is a positive early indication, but there are lot of hours to go yet so I am not calling anything at this stage.

 

Question:

 

There were reports on the weekend that if the ADF does move into Timor that they would be evacuating other nationals apart from Australians. Are those reports correct?

 

Mr Downer:

 

Those reports are correct but I wouldn’t get too exercised with the evacuations story. We obviously, as a government, take appropriate measures. We have a number of contingencies in place depending on how circumstances develop. I would say to you that our expectation is that the situation in East Timor won’t get out of hand to the extent that there would be a need for evacuation. In the event that there was a need for an evacuation, we would obviously not just evacuation Australians, but other members of the International community and we have a whole process for doing that.

 

Question:

 

Have we been given an indication on when we might hear a result on the ballot?

 

Mr Downer:

 

We won’t hear a result for quite a while. Our expectation is that the result will be announced on or around the 6 th or 7 th of September so that is over a week away.

 

Question:

 

Do you express the same concerns that the Prime Minister had yesterday with regards to the safety of the Australians?

 

Mr Downer:

 

We are obviously very concerned and conscious of the safety problems that the Australians face. Nevertheless, I think we have to understand what we are dealing with here. East Timor has been in a state of turmoil for a quarter of a century and this at long last, is the first opportunity in a quarter of a century to resolve the troubled issue of East Timor. A lot of Australians can take a lot of pride in the role they played in helping to bring that about.

 

Question:

 

The last minute peace accord, has that been some relief to yourself and the Australian Government?

 

Mr Downer:

 

The judgement I make about the peace accord is going to be based on what happens on the ground during the course of today and also over the next few weeks. I wouldn’t rush to any rapid, unguarded conclusions before I saw how it was implemented.

 

Question:

 

Are you addressing Cabinet this morning on the situation?

 

Mr Downer:

 

I suppose there will be some sort of discussion about all sorts of current issues in Cabinet, maybe the issue of East Timor will come up.

 

END

 

 

rw  1999-08-31  11:53