It is "a great day," said President Jorge Sampaio after Portugal and Indonesia signed a United Nations-brokered deal in New York. "A new phase is beginning, just as we always wanted, with the recognition of the right of the East Timorese to self-determination."
Earlier, the foreign ministers of Portugal, the former colonial power, and Indonesia agreed to terms for a vote in the occupied territory on whether it should become formally part of the Indonesian state - but with wide autonomy - or break away. The Timorese will go to the polls on 8 August.
The agreement was the culmination of years of effort to find a diplomatic solution for the violence-racked territory which was bloodily annexed by Indonesia in 1976 in a move never recognised by the international community.
The Prime Minister, Antonio Guterres, expressed "intense joy" for the signing of the deal, but warned that many obstacles remained to be overcome. He said that it was the duty of the UN and the international community to ensure that Indonesia lived up to the terms of the understanding. "There are thousands of obstacles and difficulties, many which we can already foresee. But one thing is certain - nothing will make us give up the defence of the rights of the Timorese," he said.
There has been mounting violence in the impoverished territory after Indonesia, in a dramatic diplomatic about-turn, said earlier this year it was prepared to let the territory go if it rejected the autonomy plan.
Diplomats and human rights officials fear anti-independence militias, with the more or less open backing of elements within the Indonesian military, will escalate the violence that has already claimed dozens of lives. The UN will send a contingent of some 600 civilians to help organise the vote amongst the territory's 800,000 people. They are to be backed by an unspecified number of unarmed international police. (Reuters)Reuse content