|Subject: RT: E.Timor Vote Sign-Up Starts, Some
Date: Sat, 17 Jul 1999 09:29:29 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Friday July 16 5:43 AM ET E.Timor Vote Sign-Up Starts, Some Delays
By Tomi Soetjipto
DILI, East Timor (Reuters) - Voter registration for East Timor's independence poll next month got off to a slow start Friday, with some delays following clashes involving feared pro-Indonesia militias.
The 20-day registration for the U.N.-run vote -- expected to see the bloodied territory reject rule by Jakarta -- was delayed in four southern villages after fighting between residents and militias Thursday killed one militiaman and wounded another.
U.N. spokesman David Wimhurst told reporters it was not known when voters in the area would be able to sign up, or how many people were affected by the delay.
``It's a slow process... I think the first day or two will be slow and it will pick up speed,'' Wimhurst said.
The ballot has already been pushed back two weeks and the registration process delayed by three days because of violence.
In Dili, barely a handful of people turned up at each of several registration centers when they opened at 7 a.m. (2300 GMT Thursday). But numbers grew steadily during the morning.
Small crowds of curious locals, including children on their way to school, gathered to watch last minute preparations as United Nations police advisers and electoral officers put up registration signs and opened centers.
``This is very important for East Timorese, I hope most of the people here are aware,'' Jose Brandao, 21, said after he registered.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Stanley Roth, in East Timor to assess the situation on the ground, said registration appeared to be off to a good start.
``So far it's been calm... Most of the sites have opened and there has been a reasonable turnout -- so far so good,'' he told reporters in Liquisa, about 40 km (25 miles) west of the Dili.
Roth was the most senior U.S. official to visit since Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 just months after the Portuguese suddenly quit their colony.
Radio broadcasts in five local languages urged voters to sign up for the August 21 or 22 poll to choose between independence and autonomy within Indonesia, whose often brutal army-backed rule is not recognized by the United Nations or most countries.
But there were fears pro-Jakarta militias wanting to remain part of Indonesia could attack registration centers and the people who register.
The militias have waged a bloody anti-independence campaign, killing dozens of civilians and attacking U.N. personnel.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will decide half way through the registration period if it is safe to hold the vote.
Most diplomats and East Timor experts believe a free and fair vote would overwhelmingly favor a split from Indonesia.
The United Nations Thursday opened two days of talks in New York to map out the future of East Timor after the vote.
Indonesian and Portuguese officials were to discuss several possible strategies that could be implemented, but were not expected to make any major decisions.
If the East Timorese choose independence, the United Nations and Portugal will play a key role in administering the territory until a new government can be formed, according to a May 5 agreement between Indonesia and Portugal.