Twelve Indonesian cabinet ministers flew here today on a rare visit to the troubled territory of East Timor in a display of government support for next month's U.N.-sponsored independence referendum.
The trip was arranged following last week's armed attack on U.N. personnel and just after U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan gave Indonesian authorities a three-day deadline to improve security conditions here before deciding whether to proceed with the ballot.
"We are here to see for ourselves what the situation is and what the conditions are," Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said today. "Coming with this number of ministers shows we are determined to cooperate in all fields."
Alatas met with U.N. special representatives Ian Martin and Frances Vendrell, promising them that the attack would be investigated, but he made no offers to disarm anti-independence militias, which have been blamed for dozens of civilian deaths.
Gen. Wiranto, Indonesia's top military commander, denied that authorities had failed to create a safe atmosphere for the vote, as required in the May 5 agreement among Indonesia, the United Nations and Portugal, the former colonial ruler.
"In three days we hope all sides, not just the government and the military, but both sides of the conflict, will honor these security conditions," Wiranto said.
Indonesian officials, as well as the anti-independence militias, have accused the United Nations of favoring independence for East Timor.
Twenty-three years after invading the territory, Indonesia has agreed to hold and secure a U.N.-led ballot that will allow the East Timorese to choose autonomy under Indonesia or outright independence.
But a systematic intimidation campaign by anti-independence militias in the countryside has frustrated progress on organizing the ballot. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, militias have driven about 50,000 East Timorese from their homes into refugee camps.
Human rights groups have accumulated reports that the Indonesian military is supporting the intimidation campaign.
Although the U.N. Assistance Mission in East Timor has yet to be fully deployed, officials say they are prepared to hold the vote in six weeks, provided security can be guaranteed.