Subject: UN chief dismisses fears for East Timor vote

AFP, April 13, 2002

UN chief dismisses fears for East Timor vote

The head of East Timor's UN authority has dismissed allegations of intimidation as voters prepared to elect a president to lead the world's newest nation.

Sergio Vieira de Mello expressed optimism for Sunday's vote following the end of campaigning by independence hero Xanana Gusmao and his sole challenger for the presidency, Francisco Xavier do Amaral.

Speaking at a press conference on a rest day prior to the UN-administered election, de Mello said he had every reason to believe that East Timorese would turn out in droves for the historic poll.

"I am pretty certain that the turnout will be significant, whether it reaches 91 or 93 percent I cannot predict, but it will be significant," said the head of the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor.

"Even though you may think you know the outcome, I am sure each Timorese will make sure that the candidate that they have in mind will become president," de Mello said.

Both the two prior UN elections held in East Timor -- the blood-soaked independence ballot in 1999 and the parliamentary election in August last year -- registered turnouts in excess of 90 percent.

The vote for a new legislative assembly was won by Fretilin, whose guerrilla wing was led by Gusmao for two decades as he fought from the jungles and mountains to drive out Indonesian occupation forces.

Gusmao, 56, is expected to win by a landslide to become East Timor's first, largely ceremonial, president after the territory wins statehood on May 20.

But his supporters have complained of intimidation by some members of Fretilin. Gusmao's call for reconciliation with pro-Indonesian East Timorese implicated in the violence that engulfed the 1999 independence vote has not been welcomed by everyone.

Gusmao is running as an independent, having distanced himself from his former political allies. Fretilin is endorsing neither him nor do Amaral, 66, who was president of the former Portuguese colony for nine days in 1975 before Indonesia invaded.

"We have proof, not that Fretilin as a party but elements of it have instructed people to spoil their ballot papers or not to vote at all," Gusmao told BBC television in an interview broadcast Saturday.

"One member of the assembly even told people, if they don't vote for the other candidate, there will be another war."

De Mello, however, rejected the allegation, which has also been aired by European Union election monitors.

"I have heard of no intimidation by the Fretilin or by anyone else," he said. "Intimidation is no longer in the vocabulary of the East Timorese... and will not be tolerated by us."

The UN administrator also brushed aside fears of post-ballot violence.

"We have heard such rumours many times before... and the Timorese proved those rumourmongers were totally wrong and I am sure the same will happen tomorrow," he said.

Gusmao has also been reported to have differences with interim Chief Minister Mari Alkatiri, who has said he will not vote for either candidate.

Observers have said Alkatiri, who is to become prime minister in the new government, is trying to lessen the size of Gusmao's expected majority so as to reduce his moral authority as president.

De Mello said that Alkatiri's decision was "his choice... and what others may decide to do, having read his statement, is also their choice".

He added he was "not worried at all" by the apparent rift between Alkatiri and Gusmao.

"Both of them have demonstrated in the past that they are responsible and mature political leaders, they have fought for the same cause... all have the same objectives.

"I am certain that both of them would realise that what the international community and more particularly the East Timorese community expects from them, is that they join hands and work together."


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