Subject: AGE: ETimor struggles along the dangerous road to independence
Date: Sun, 01 Aug 1999 11:28:13 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

ETimor struggles along the dangerous road to independence

The Age [Australia] July 28, 1999


UNLIKE many towns in East Timor, Maliana has good public amenities. Electricity is reliable, the roads are sealed and new brick footpaths, a rarity in many parts of Jakarta let alone in East Timor, line the main streets. But a large stone lodged in a plywood wall inside the front office of the United Nations compound suggests not all is well in this picturesque town nestled at the base of rugged mountains close to East Timor's south-west border.

In all East Timor's 13 districts, south-west Maliana is among the most troublesome for the UN mission.

Halfway through his eight-year term, Maliana's bupati (mayor), Guilherme dos Santos, a self-confessed loudmouth, is less than enthusiastic about the UN referendum on self-determination, and at odds with UN enrolment requirements. At a mass rally in Balibo on 17July, he said that a government-issued KTP (identity) card should be all that the UN requires for East Timorese to take part in the vote.

UN rules require two sets of documentation, one for identity and another to prove voting eligibility. A KTP is useful for identity, but a birth or marriage certificate is also required as proof of eligibility. KTP cards are easily obtained on the black market, Indonesian experts say.

Dos Santos warned that if the UN rejected his advice he would call on his supporters to boycott the vote. On Sunday a 30-strong militia mob approached two voter-registration centres in Balibo town, demanding to register with only the KTP identity document.

UN polling staff turned them away and the mob responded with a threat to return and destroy both centres. Police reinforcements were called and the mob went away.

Voter intimidation in Maliana is rife, training by pro-Jakarta militias is a twice-daily event, while UN staff have to deal with the additional problem of a large refugee population - victims of earlier militia violence.

Whether the UN vote goes ahead on time may well be determined by the success of the UN and local police in achieving a free and fair environment for voting in Maliana.

Compounding threats of militia violence and intimidation is a demand from local authorities for about 11,000 pro-autonomy refugees living in Atambua in West Timor to be allowed to vote in Maliana.

Delicate negotiations are continuing over UN concerns about the status of about 9200 ``refugees'' they claim fled East Timor in successive waves from 1940, 1950, 1960 and 1975. The Atambua refugees would boost the district's eligible voter population by 20per cent.

Dos Santos has only recently and grudgingly accepted a proposal for a pro-independence group, the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT), to establish an office in town and has demanded that no CNRT staff from Dili be based in Maliana. He said he could not be held responsible for the safety of a local pro-independence leader, Manuel Margenez, who now wants to return from exile. Margenez's house was burnt down in April, but he says he now wants to return for the referendum campaign.

On 29 June, a mob of pro-Jakarta militia and their supporters attacked the UN compound, injuring several staff and creating an embarrassing international incident for Indonesia. A UN investigation revealed collusion at the highest level between senior local government officials in Maliana, the military and the militias.

The report identifies the local army intelligence chief, Lieutenant Satrisno, as one of the main organisers. Denying any involvement, Satrisno jokingly defends his innocence: ``If I was involved, everyone would have been killed.'' He had been threatened with a transfer, but continues to work in Maliana.

Violence in Maliana is not confined to the militia and their army allies. Pro-independence Falintil guerrillas are also active and are blamed for at least one recent attack against the military.

``It cuts both ways here,'' says one Maliana-based Western security expert. ``There is no love lost between the two sides in Maliana. I think both sides are scared of each other and the problem is, if they are scared, they could do something stupid.''

Meanwhile, after initial dithering, Government officials and pro-autonomy groups active in Maliana are now encouraging locals to get out and register. Dos Santos says he is in no hurry to register and will probably apply on the last day


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