Visiting Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid said Tuesday that a referendum in the country’s troubled Aceh Province may be held in seven months.

“In general the plan now is to have the referendum on Aceh … seven months from now,” Wahid told the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.

The president said that whether the referendum will be on autonomy or independence from Indonesia is up to the “people themselves, not the government bureaucracy.”

The comments came as the newly elected Wahid wrapped up a two-day visit to Japan that he used to speak with Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and other top government officials.

Obuchi indicated Tuesday that Tokyo is prepared to provide maximum support for Jakarta’s efforts to achieve national reform, and also proposed that a bilateral think tank be established to offer economic and financial advice to Jakarta.

During their meeting, at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence, Obuchi praised Indonesia’s democratic process in electing Wahid president last month and his efforts to form a united front to deal with the country’s problems, according to a Japanese official.

Expressing gratitude for Japan’s economic and other assistance, Wahid said Indonesia could have failed to find a way out of its economic crisis and the East Timor problem without Japan’s support, the official said.

Wahid reiterated his resolve to fulfill his reform promises, saying that during this visit, he has realized that Japanese government and business leaders are deeply concerned about the situation in Indonesia, the official said.

Japanese government sources said Tuesday that Obuchi plans to visit Jakarta on Nov. 26, moving up by a day his planned departure to attend a meeting of leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Japan, South Korea and China in Manila Nov. 28, so as to underscore the importance Tokyo places on Indonesia.

As to the troubled province of Aceh, Wahid said that it will remain a part of Indonesia and that a simmering trend among Indonesia’s many disparate provinces and islands of demanding autonomy or independence will not escalate.

“I don’t believe that those separatists in different islands voice the (opinion) of the majority. They are a minority, a very small minority. That’s why I agree about (holding) the referendum” in Aceh, he said.

Obuchi expressed to Wahid Japan’s determination to play an active role in providing continued assistance for East Timor, stressing that restoring stability there is also important for the stability of Indonesia, the Japanese official said.

Tokyo has been committed to assisting the activity of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor, an organ tasked with building a new independent state in the former Indonesian-controlled territory.

Last week, the U.N. appointed Akira Takahashi, an official of the government-affiliated Japan International Cooperation Agency, as deputy chief of UNTAET’s humanitarian assistance and emergency rehabilitation division.

Japan has also committed $100 million to a multinational force deployed to East Timor to restore order. With further refugee assistance and contributions to UNTAET expected, Japan’s aid for East Timor is expected to reach $200 million.

On top of this, Obuchi proposed to set up the bilateral think tank Japan Indonesia Advisory Network to provide policy recommendations to Jakarta in such fields as the global economy and finance. Wahid accepted the offer, the official said.

The two sides will next work out the details of the think tank, which will probably consist of fewer than 10 members from each side. The Japanese side will be led by Nobuo Matsunaga, a former Japanese ambassador to the U.S., the official said.

Wahid also met Tuesday with Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, who reiterated Japan’s plan to continue helping Indonesia financially, another Japanese official said.

In the 25-minute meeting with Wahid, Miyazawa said it is quite natural for Japan to help Indonesia, the official told reporters.

Miyazawa said international organizations and bilateral aid donors are willing to start discussing additional assistance early next year once the International Monetary Fund agrees to resume loans to Indonesia, according to the official.

The IMF has been negotiating conditions for the resumption of lending to Indonesia since Wahid made public an audit report into a scandal surrounding Bank Bali earlier this month.

Wahid arrived in Japan on Monday, his first visit here since he took office Oct. 20. The stopover came as he was en route back to Indonesia after a trip to the United States. Earlier this month, he visited eight of the 10 ASEAN countries.

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