|Subject: AP: Bloodshed Mars E. Timor Voter Drive
Date: Sat, 17 Jul 1999 09:31:32 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <email@example.com>
Friday July 16 5:05 AM ET
Bloodshed Mars E. Timor Voter Drive
By GEOFF SPENCER Associated Press Writer
SUAI, Indonesia (AP) - Bloodshed marred the start of voter registration in East Timor for a U.N.-supervised ballot on independence for the Indonesian province, U.N. officials said today.
Witnesses said anti-independence militiamen attacked independence supporters Thursday night in the village of Salasa, about 60 miles southwest of the provincial capital of Dili.
One militia member was killed and two people were injured in the brawl, officials said. The clash erupted just hours before a 20-day registration period began today at 200 U.N. outposts and offices across the half-island territory.
The referendum, scheduled for Aug. 21 or 22, will allow voters to decide whether East Timor should become an autonomous region within Indonesia or become fully independent.
East Timor has endured years of protests, guerrilla warfare and human rights abuses since it became part of Indonesia in the mid-1970s. The question of independence has polarized its 800,000 inhabitants.
Jan Devold, a U.N. electoral officer in the town of Suai, said four registration posts had been closed because of the fighting. Some 200 villagers fled their homes before U.N. personnel arrived at the scene of the attack, witnesses said.
The area around Suai and other parts of East Timor have been wracked by violence pitting supporters of continued Indonesian rule against those who support independence.
In Indonesia's capital Jakarta, President B.J. Habibie pledged to respect the results of the referendum.
Francisco Lopes da Cruz, the government's envoy for the region, said Habibie would visit the province if voters choose autonomy.
``Otherwise, the president will deliver a nationwide address to congratulate the East Timorese who chose to separate from Indonesia,'' Da Cruz said.
Elsewhere, voter registration got off to a mainly peaceful start after the United Nations postponed it by three days because of fears of violence.
For days, the United Nations has been urging people to register in repeated radio broadcasts in several languages.
Only small groups of people turned out at registration offices in Dili. Larger numbers gathered at U.N. posts in other towns.
``I'm very happy that this is happening. I want to vote. That's why I am registering,'' said Domingos da Costa, a high school teacher, who was among about 100 people lined up at a community hall in Maliana, 35 miles southwest of Dili.
He clutched his Indonesian citizenship card along with a Roman Catholic baptismal certificate to present as required identification. The registration process includes taking signatures and thumbprints.
Last month, an anti-independence mob stoned and invaded a U.N. compound in Maliana. U.N. staff members also have been threatened and attacked in other areas.
Geoff Fisher, chief electoral officer for the U.N. Assistance Mission in East Timor, said he was pleased with today's response by would-be voters.
``The fact that people have turned out is something I accept as a positive signal,'' he said. ``But there are 19 more days to go yet.''
Fisher, who visited several registration posts outside Dili today, said there appeared to be no sign of overt intimidation by armed groups that are accused of killing civilians and mounting a terror campaign to derail the ballot.
``Their were many smiles on the people's faces. That's a positive sign,'' he said.
Visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Stanley Roth said the registration process had only just begun and concerns about security remained. But, he said, ``it has got off to a good start.''
Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975 and formally annexed it on July 17, 1976. Ceremonies marking the anniversary are scheduled for Saturday.