Other Questions. - Human Rights Abuses.

Michael Ferris

Question:

8 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the reports of a major offensive in East Timor; and the steps, if any, being undertaken by the international community to address the situation. [22035/98]

Liz McManus

Question:

18 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if Ireland supports the claim of East Timor for full independence from Indonesia; the steps, if any, being taken to support this objective to end the illegal occupation of East Timor and the oppression of the people by Indonesia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22046/98]

Brian O'Shea

Question:

53 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the contact or communication, if any, he has had with the Indonesian Government in relation to the continuing difficulties in East Timor. [22163/98]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8, 18 and 53 together.

In accordance with the European Union's common position on East Timor, Ireland actively supports international efforts to promote respect for human rights and to bring about a just and peaceful solution to the East Timor question which fully respects the interests and legitimate aspirations of the Timorese people.

Despite assurances by the new administration of President Habibie in Jakarta, it would appear that there has been no withdrawal of Indonesian troops from East Timor. There may even have been some increase in the total number of soldiers in the territory. There also appears to have been increased military activity in the countryside although the capital city of Dili has been relatively calm.

In recent months, nevertheless, a number of developments have occurred which may assist the efforts to achieve a just, comprehensive and internationally acceptable solution to the issue of East Timor. I am encouraged by the results of the meeting between the Secretary General of the United Nations and the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia and Portugal which took place in New York on 4-5 August last and were resumed at a further meeting last month. I welcomed the agreement on these occasions to enter into in-depth negotiations on issues related to the question of East Timor without prejudice to each side's basic positions of principle.

I also note with satisfaction the prospect for closer involvement of the East Timorese people in the search for a solution. It is clear that the will of the Timorese people is vital and must be fully taken into account if a satisfactory solution is to be achieved. It is not for us, however, to prejudge the final outcome of the process of self-determination in the territory of East Timor — this is a matter for the Timorese people. What is clear is that the option of independence should exist if that is the choice of the people.

I have had no direct contact in recent months with the Indonesian authorities on the question of East Timor. I hope, however, to travel to Jakarta in the coming months for the purpose of visiting the imprisoned resistance leader, Xanana Gusmao. I propose to avail of such an opportunity to have serious discussions with the Indonesians on the question of East Timor and other issues.

I wish to avail of this opportunity to pay tribute to all those in Ireland, particularly the East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign whom I have met on a number of occasions, for their efforts in focusing attention on the plight of the Timorese people. I assure the House that I intend to continue working in support of all worthwhile initiatives which seek to improve the political, social and economic condition of the people of East Timor.

I, too, offer my congratulations to the East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign which had humble origins but has been a very effective lobby group. As the Minister will know, the Department has been supportive of that group of sensible people. I, too, acknowledge the efforts of the Secretary General of the United Nations in the context of the meetings with the Portuguese and Indonesian Foreign Ministers. That is the way to make progress. Am I right in assuming from the Minister's reply that he is also disappointed that the new administration in Indonesia seems to have gone back on its early assurances that there would be a new scenario in its dealings with East Timor? There are reports of major offensives in East Timor and there has been an increase in troop levels throughout the island. Will the Minister confirm if what we are hearing is true in that respect?

I support the Minister's proposed visit to Indonesia to meet the jailed leader, Xanana Gusmao, and we offer our support for any efforts or dialogue in which he can engage. It is important that Ireland continues to highlight the injustices in East Timor as we have done at European Union level and United Nations level. I compliment the Minister on what he has done to date. If an opportunity arises, will he raise this matter directly with the Indonesian Government?

I acknowledge the honourable role played by the Deputy in regard to East Timor, particularly his support for the East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign during his incumbency. Regarding the disappointment about the new administration appearing to have gone back on its assurances, there has been some dialogue since August. I was encouraged by the results of the meeting between the Secretary General of the United Nations and the Foreign Ministers of Portugal and Indonesia which took place in New York on 4-5 August last. As the Deputy said, matters have moved on in a negative way. The soundings and intelligence information we have received do not bode well for the citizens of Dili and the people of East Timor in particular. The matter is on the agenda of next Monday's General Affairs Council. I will articulate the concern expressed by Deputy Spring about this matter. According to my information, matters have regressed rather than progressed. It is for that reason, among others, I welcome this question and the intervention.

I welcome the Minister's commitment to raise this matter and to continue raising it. Will he also raise the related issue of Britain continuing to supply the Indonesian army with weapons despite the implementation of what has been referred to in Britain as, an ethical foreign policy? It was reported in The Irish Times on 31 October that 64 licences for the export of weapons, including small arms, machine guns, mortars, flame throwers, ammunition, bombs, rockets, missiles, riot control agents and more, to Indonesia have been agreed. It was reported that five battalions of the Indonesian army landed in East Timor in August last. It was also reported that 200,000 people have died since 1975 as a result of the occupation of East Timor. John Pilger has described it as a land of white crosses. It is urgent not only to raise this matter with the United Nations but to raise it with our partners in the European Union and ask them to please stop supplying the Indonesian army with the weapons of death.

I have expressed the view here and elsewhere that the arms industry does not have any morality. The Deputy is correct in what he said. I am aware of what has been happening, as articulated by Deputy Spring. It is a matter I will raise at the General Affairs Council on Monday in light of the known facts of what has been happening in what appeared to be a hopeful situation. It has become less hopeful, but I would not say it is hopeless. I am aware the leader of the East Timor solidarity group is on his way there and may have already arrived. I look forward to his safe return and to discussing once more his up-to-date assessment of the situation there. I will be able to report to the House next week or thereafter, my contribution to the general affairs council and the intelligence I will have received from the East Timorese solidarity group.

I salute the Minister and commend him for his action in visiting Jakarta, which has our full support. I would not expect anything less from him because I know he is very committed to that issue. It is a welcome development and I join other Deputies in strongly supporting him.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.