Subject: Transcript: ABC news report from Liquisa
Date: Mon, 23 Aug 1999 06:00:00 EDT

Australian Broadcasting Corp. PM News Programme Monday, August 23, 1999 6:24 p.m.

Pro-autonomy rally held in East Timor

MARK COLVIN: Just one week to go till East Timor's independence or autonomy vote next week, and today pro-autonomy forces held a rally in the small town of Liquisa, West of Dili. It was in Liquisa in April that dozens of independent supporters were massacred in a churchyard, and that massacre was blamed on the pro-autonomy militias.

While today's rally was well attended, many in the crowd quietly say they actually support independence. Our reporter, Mark Bowling, went to the rally today and joins me on the line now.

Mark, what sort of security presence was there there?

MARK BOWLING: Well, Mark, there was quite a strong security presence. Since April, since the massacre, the police numbers have been increased quite a bit. The town is relatively quiet but it's fair to say that there's a feeling of trepidation and what might come because the militias in Liquisa are still very, very active.

MARK COLVIN: So what kind of mood did you find in the town?

MARK BOWLING: Well, at the rally itself I was talking to some of the people in the crowd and in whispered tones asked them whether they were there because they supported autonomy, that is continued presence in East Timor by the Indonesians, or whether they really wanted independence and they whispered to me they want independence. It was as simple as that.

They were wearing the T-shirts of the pro-Jakarta autonomy groups. They were there cheering the autonomy groups and dancing to their songs, but secretly say they're going to vote for indigence.

So, despite the campaign of fear and intimidation that's been going on there, when it comes to having a secret ballot vote that's the way they're going to vote.

MARK COLVIN: So this is a good litmus test, isn't it, because one of the big questions has become do people know, do people understand, do they believe that the vote really is going to be secret and that they can't be targeted for the way they actually vote when they get into the booth?

MARK BOWLING: I think that's right. I mean the fact that they would ... they would say to me, at an autonomy rally, that that's the way they would vote suggests that there is an easing up of those tensions with only a week t go they can say these things to foreign journalists. But of course the militias have been very active, not just in Liquisa but all of the towns close to the Western border jutting onto West Timor, and it's in those towns that most analysts are saying there will be trouble in the post-ballot period.

If it goes ... if the vote goes the way of independence, then there will be a reaction from the militias and we hear that some of the militia leaders now are even moving their families into West Timor anticipating that there will be trouble, and they're ready for it minus their families.

MARK COLVIN: Does that mean that they may themselves base themselves in West Timor and then make incursions back into East Timor, or are they just moving their families there with the intention of mounting guerilla activity within the province?

MARK BOWLING: Well I think a combination of both because the towns are very close along the border region. But the suggestion is that they are going to take a stand in places like Maliana, where there was some violence by militia groups last week in places like Liquisa and also the town of Suwai, where there are hundreds of refugees, pro-independence refugees still in that town.

In these types of places that's where the militias may make their last stand and the suggestion by many political analysis that they would then move across the border, possibly running weapons as they go.

MARK COLVIN: And this is the question that I keep asking you and your colleagues: what are the indications at the moment about the level of support that they're getting from the Indonesian military?

MARK BOWLING: Well the connection is still firmly there. The United Nations said to journalists during briefings there's circumstantial evidence, you can see it for yourself when you visit these towns. The chiefs in the towns, the people that are supposed to be impartial and represent the Indonesian Government and have control of both soldiers and police are clearly supporting the militia groups.

They at times allow them free reign of the streets. The militia groups can go through the streets armed with machetes and stones and they are not stopped by police. So the police are simply either turning a blind eye or perhaps even worse, in some circumstances, are assisting those militia groups. Not the police so much, I should say, but the Indonesian military.

So, there is certainly lots of evidence of that going on.

MAR COLVIN: Mark Bowling on the line from Timor.

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