Subject: AFP: Rights group doubts Timor ballot can be free and fair
Date: Tue, 24 Aug 1999 05:26:59 EDT

Rights group doubts East Timor ballot can be free and fair

DILI, East Timor, Aug 24 (AFP) - Next week's landmark ballot on this territory's future will not be free and fair without a dramatic improvement in security conditions, a human rights group warned here Tuesday.

"The security situation has become worse and worse, day after day, approaching the day of the ballot," Joaquim Fonseca, spokesman for the Committee for a Free and Fair Ballot of the Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, told journalists here.

"UNAMET (the UN Mission in East Timor) obviously recognizes the problem of the violence but has not done anything to respond to it, much less prevent it from occurring."

He released a report detailing a series of attacks by pro-Indonesian militia over the past week.

Without firm action against those responsible and a real improvement in security conditions "the East Timorese will be forced to participate in a ballot which is not free and fair," the report said.

Close to 430,000 people are registered in the territory to choose next Monday whether to accept or reject an autonomy option under Indonesia.

Jakarta has said that it may grant independence if the people of East Timor, a former Portuguese colony it invaded in 1975 and annexed the following year, voted against the autonomy offer.

"It appears to us that there is no reason to continue the ballot under these conditions," Fonseca said. "The time is running out at the moment."

He did not call for a delay or cancellation of the vote but urged a review of the May 5 agreements that gave Indonesian police responsibility for security and left UNAMET military and police liaison officers unarmed.

"Under that agreement, UNAMET cannot do anything. The mandate is very specific," Fonseca said.

The Committee's report urged a United Nations peacekeeping force for the territory "because it is evident that the Indonesian government has failed to fulfill its obligations."

Militia members surrendered weapons throughout the territory last week but the report called this "only a symbolic act."

It quoted the commander of the militia in Dili as saying the weapons his force handed over will by kept in a special warehouse at the militia headquarters, but guarded by Indonesian police.

After a weapons surrender in the town of Ainaro, committee observers saw militia members still carrying pistols in holsters, the report said.

The Roman Catholic bishop and 1996 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Carlos Ximenes Belo, meanwhile, urged the international community to increase pressure on Indonesia to ensure a peaceful vote in East Timor next week.

"I pray that the United States and other nations will do whatever possible to persuade Indonesian forces to allow this choice to be made freely, and, if independence is the result, to accept it without retaliating with violence," the bishop of Dili wrote in an article in The New York Times on Tuesday.

Despite all his efforts to reconcile opposing forces in East Timor, "I have concluded that only international pressure on Indonesia's army can end the violence," he said.

Ximenes urged Washington to make it clear to the military "that Indonesia will not receive any military assistance or the loans the country so badly needs unless the army ends its campaign of violence" in East Timor.

"And Indonesian authorities must permit the entry of international peacekeepers."

"Diplomatic intervention may be the only hope there is to avert a new blood bath in my native land," he said.

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