After decades of Indonesian occupation, East Timor is beginning to see events move at an almost breathtaking pace. Only a day after rebel leader Xanana Gusmao was moved out of his jail cell came President Bacharuddin Habibie's declaration that, one way or another, he expects the former Portuguese colony's status to be resolved by January 1. Independence, an option which his government only recently accepted as a fallback, has suddenly catapulted to the top of Jakarta's agenda. But while it is understandable Mr Habibie should wish to rid himself of the Timor headache, so that he can concentrate on the rest of his nation's pressing problems, Indonesia cannot be allowed to brush off its responsibilities so easily. After 24 years of occupation, Jakarta cannot simply pack up and leave so easily. To do so risks precipitating precisely the sort of civil war which erupted when Portugal abruptly pulled out in 1975, so providing the pretext for Jakarta's invasion. Already there are signs of growing tension between Timorese nationalists and those with a vested interest in a continued Indonesian presence. Some suspect the military have even begun arming local militia to fight the advocates of independence. The best hope for the troubled province lies in the now almost-free Gusmao, who appears remarkably devoid of bitterness despite the long struggle he has waged. Together with Nobel Peace laureate Jose Ramos Horta, who is now likely to be allowed to return to Timor, he is emerging as a moderate figure capable of building the consensus that would avert another civil war. That will take time with Gusmao suggesting it may need 10 years of social reconciliation before Timor is ready for a referendum on self-rule. So however much Mr Habibie may wish to wash his hands of the problem more quickly, he will have to understand Indonesia's obligations towards those whose rights it has suppressed for so long will continue at least until Timor is ready for independence.