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A senior Catholic Bishop has referred to the present moment as 'the best opportunity in two decades for progress on East Timor.'

Bishop Kevin Manning, Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, said in a recent letter to Mr. Alexander Downer, Minister for Foreign Affairs, that 'Australia has an unparallelled opportunity to use its good offices with the Indonesian Government to make progress towards a satisfactory settlement.'

Bishop Manning, who visited East Timor in October last year, welcomed the recent announcement by President Habibie of Indonesia, in which the President offered special status to East Timor, the release of resistance leader Xanana Gusmao and a reduction in the military presence in East Timor.

However, the condition for these concessions would be recognition by the international community of the legitimacy of the Indonesian presence in East Timor.

Bishop Manning stressed that a final resolution of the political status of East Timor, as requested by the Bishop of Dili, Bishop Belo, and the United Nations, must be based on the freely expressed wishes of its people.

He called on Mr. Downer to encourage the Indonesian Government to use President Habibie's proposals as the basis for further negotiations.