Subject: IHT: East Timor Tense as Vote Nears
Date: Tue, 17 Aug 1999 20:43:01 EDT

International Herald Tribune Wednesday, August 18, 1999

East Timor Tense as Vote Nears

Gunmen Shoot at Offices of a Pro-Independence Group

The Associated Press

DILI, Indonesia - Gunmen opened fire on the offices of East Timor's main pro-independence group at dawn Tuesday, just hours before pro-Indonesian loyalists gathered for what could be the last Indonesian National Day celebration in the territory.

No injuries were reported in the attacks on two buildings housing the offices of the National Council for Timorese Resistance, which blamed anti-independence militiamen for the attack.

One office, located in the city's waterfront area, was the site of a rally on Sunday by thousands of pro-independence supporters that kicked off their campaign for the Aug. 30 ballot on East Timor's future status.

The referendum, supervised by the United Nations, will give East Timor's 800,000 people a chance to choose between autonomy within Indonesia or full independence.

The Indonesian governor, Abilio Jose Osario Soares, who spoke at the ceremony in Dili, said he was convinced East Timor would not split from Indonesia.

''This will not be the last independence ceremony,'' he told 1,000 members of the military, police and civil guards arrayed on the square in front of the former Portuguese governor's mansion.

''This will be forever; we'll continue in Indonesia forever,'' he said.

On the fringes of the square, about 300 members of two anti-independence militia groups shouted slogans and waved Indonesian flags.

The United Nations and human rights groups have blamed the militias for acting as proxies for Indonesian security forces and using violence to terrorize voters and intimidate UN workers.

Most of Dili's 130,000 inhabitants ignored the event.

Speaking to 400 supporters in front of the bullet-scarred offices, a local pro-independence leader blamed the militias and the Indonesian military for the attack.

''They shot at us this morning,'' said James Roman Dos Santos, a local leader of the organization. ''Every night there is militia violence against the majority of the people here.''

In Jakarta, Indonesia's 54th Independence Day was marked by the annual military pageant at the presidential palace.

Minister of Religion Malik Fajar prayed for ''the spirit of independence to continue to burn in our hearts.''

Also in the capital, hundreds of students gathered Tuesday on a street near Atmajaya University to demand clean government and an end to the military's involvement in politics.

The military played a key role in keeping President Suharto in power for 32 years. The autocratic leader resigned last year amid massive street riots and protests.

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