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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sides Downplay Timor Peace Talks




JAKARTA, Indonesia -- With less than two months left before a planned independence referendum, East Timor's rival factions are trying to craft a plan to end violence in the troubled territory while acknowledging that decades of hatred will be hard to overcome.


Five days of talks are scheduled to end Wednesday. All parties to the so-called Dare II negotiations were trying Monday to downplay expectations.


"Very little progress was made today," meeting spokesman Father Domingos Sequeira said, adding that the pro- and anti-independence groups largely caucused on their own.


Rebel independence leader Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao earlier said the talks haven't lived up to expectations. Roman Catholic Bishop Carlos Belo spoke of the need for a joint commission to keep working when the meeting ends.


Francisco Lopes da Cruz, leader of an anti-independence militia and Indonesia's ambassador for East Timor, warned that any deal has to be realistic rather than an attempt to do too much.


"It's been a problem for so long that no one expects a solution is going to be easy," Australian Ambassador John McCarthy said. "I don't expect the whole thing to be wrapped up here."


The wide gap between the two sides reflects the polarization entrenched in East Timor, which is scheduled to vote in August on whether to become independent or gain autonomy within Indonesia.


Dozens have been killed in the last two months. Thousands have fled their homes for the jungle, fearing attacks.


A June 18 peace deal, signed by the major factions' leaders, aims to end the violence. But it did not tackle how to disarm, and Monday's talks dealt only with the first of the four main agenda items: reconciliation, the referendum, the political situation and the security situation.


United Nations official Tamrat Samuel said that while Indonesia, which invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975, will have to play a huge role in improving security, the East Timorese must play their part.


"This is a homegrown East Timorese initiative looking for a homegrown East Timorese solution," Samuel said.


Gusmao, who has fought for independence and is serving a 20-year sentence under house arrest in Jakarta, urged the rival factions to "act responsibly" to end the violence.


Roughly 60 representatives of various East Timor groups have joined the talks that opened Friday. Portuguese envoy Anna Gomes called for both sides to have the "courage to surrender their weapons and defend their options by democratic persuasion in civilized and nonviolent methods."


UN officials have said anti-independence supporters appear to have operated with the knowledge and backing of the Indonesian military. The government has issued strong denials and is replacing troops with civilian police.


The painfully slow vote count from Indonesia's June 7 parliamentary election could delay the choice of a president, analysts and frustrated politicians warned Monday.


The General Election Commission initially had planned to have final results two weeks after the first democratic ballot in 44 years. It then pushed back the date to July 8 and acknowledged Monday that it doesn't know when the count will be finished.


Party officials and analysts said that technical and political matters are behind the slow pace. As of Monday, only about 54 percent of the votes have been tabulated.