|Subject: update: Huge turnout as E.Timorese flock in
peace to polls
Date: Sun, 29 Aug 1999 23:31:26 EDT
also: Thousands of East Timorese flock to polling stations
10.13 p.m. U.S. ET (216 GMT) August 29, 1999
Heavy Early Turnout In East Timor Ballot, Says UN
DILI, East Timor The United Nations said half of East Timor's voters had turned up to vote in the first hours of polling Monday in a ballot that is expected to set the bloodied territory on the path to independence.
The United Nations, which is organizing the historic ballot, said in a statement that by 10 a.m. 50 percent of all registered voters had turned up at the more than 800 polling stations.
Thousands of East Timorese flock to polling stations
Source: AFP | Published: Monday August 30 10:35:36 AM
DILI, East Timor, Aug 30 - Huge crowds of East Timorese defied militia intimidation by descending on polling stations at dawn today to vote on whether to remain part of Indonesia.
The polls opened on time at 6.30am (0830 AEST) in most of the 850 polling stations territory-wide, witnesses said.
In Dili's Kuluhun area, some 250 people were waiting in line when the first voter, a frail 66-year-old lady supported by two family members, entered polling station number 25 to cast the first ballot.
Barefoot, with bandages on her arm, she said she had been injured during an attack by pro-Indonesian militia in the area on Thursday in which six people died.
"I'm number one. I am not afraid to come. But I came early because I want to go home because I am sick."
Twenty-four assistants trained by the UN Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) were on hand to assist the voters. Observers watched as the blue ballot boxes were sealed.
Each voter's finger was marked with invisible ink, detectable by a special ultra-violet lamp. The use of the invisible ink was aimed at preventing militia members from identifying who had voted.
At a school in the inner Dili suburb of Bemori, where some 300 people were in line at the crack of dawn to vote, UNAMET spokesman Hiro Ueki called the turnout 'remarkable.'
"I think people are really determined to vote today, and I'm really glad to see so many people despite so many acts of intimidation. This is remarkable," Ueki said.
UNAMET chief Ian Martin expressed optimism.
"I have no reports of violent incidents or any of our polling stations being unable to open so far and I do have some encouraging reports of large lines of voters," he told the BBC.
The chief of the Portuguese observer mission Jose Julia Pereira Gomes, added: "It is magnificent ... if it goes like this it will be a huge success."
It took two to three minutes for each voter, and by 15 minutes after the polls opened more than 400 people were lined up at polling station number 25.
As the sun rose, they held their registration papers over their heads, to protect themselves. The mood in the crowd was serious.
There was no sign of any special security, save for a Ghanaian civilian UN policeman and three Indonesian police sitting on metal chairs.
In the streets of the city hundreds of people could be seen walking towards polling stations, ballot papers in their hands.
The centres were scheduled to close at 4pm (1800 AEST), with the option to remain open if more people were still waiting.
UNAMET has said that voting in areas where security deteriorates so badly that centres are forced to shut will be extended at least for another day.
The choice before the 438,000 voters of this devoutly-Catholic former Portuguese colony is whether to accept or reject an offer of autonomy under the Indonesian flag.
But the words: "Do you accept the proposed special autonomy for East Timor within the Unitary state of Indonesia" are a simple camouflage for you can have independence if you want.
After almost 24 years of harsh military occupation, and some 200,000 dead, the vote is widely expected to go in favour of independence, despite widespread pro-Indonesia militia intimidation of voters that has forced two postponements of the vote.
"I already know the people will vote for independence. We have struggled for 24 years for this. I think 95 per cent of the people of Dili will vote for freedom," said Juliao Mausiry, a voter in Kuluhun.
UNAMET, in charge of conducting the poll, officially known as a 'popular consultation,' is also polling several thousand East Timorese abroad, many of them in Indonesia, bringing the total number of voters to 451,000.
Agreement for the vote was reached on May 5 this year in New York, between Portugal which ruled East Timor for 400 years and Indonesia, which invaded the small territory in 1975.
As a part of the agreement, which left security for the ballot in the hands of the Indonesian police, Jakarta said it would let East Timor have independence if its people rejected autonomy.
Hundreds of pro-independence supporters and their family members have been killed since January when Indonesian President BJ Habibie announced he was considering letting go of East Timor.
Habibie succeeded former Indonesian president Suharto who ordered the 1975 invasion.
The harshness of the occupation of East Timor and the annexation of the territory in 1976 - never recognised by the United Nations - did much damage to Indonesia's reputation.
Jakarta has pledged to pull out its military within three to six months if the vote goes against them.
Reuters 9.27 p.m. ET (130 GMT) August 29, 1999
E.Timorese Flock In Peace To Independence Ballot
DILI, East Timor Hundreds of thousands of East Timorese defied threats of violence to flock to polling stations Monday for a U.N.-run ballot expected to set their bloodied territory on the path to independence.
Security was tight across East Timor amid fears of attacks by pro-Jakarta militias which have killed hundreds this year in a bid to keep the former Portuguese colony within Indonesia.
The result of the vote the first time East Timorese have been allowed to choose their own future since Indonesia's invasion in 1975 is expected within the week.
There were no early reports of violence and international observers said they were optimistic.
"It seems orderly and peaceful,'' U.S. ambassador to Indonesia Stapleton Roy told Reuters at a polling booth in the territory's capital, Dili, where hundreds of people queued to cast their votes. Some were dressed in their Sunday best.
Some voters camped outside polling stations overnight to ensure loyalist militias could not stop them turning up to vote when polling stations opened at 6.30 a.m. (2230 GMT Sunday).
"I am very happy, but scared,'' said one man. "This is a proud day for East Timor. This is our right. We have waited a long time for this day.
"Scared or dead, it's our choice to choose.''
The streets of Dili were peaceful early Monday, filled with people streaming to polling booths.
Pro-independence leader Xanana Gusmao, under house arrest in Jakarta, ordered his followers to avoid violence and urged all East Timorese to vote.
"Let us vote, let us all vote,'' he said in a statement. ''Let us not be afraid. East Timor depends on the courage and conviction we demonstrate today.
"This day marks once and for all times the end of our long suffering and today, too, we affirm our sovereignty as a people.''
More than 450,000 East Timorese are voting in the territory and around the world to choose between independence or autonomy within Indonesia, whose often brutal 23-year rule has never been internationally recognized.
Voters' fingers are marked with invisible ink which can be seen only under a special light to ensure they cannot vote twice and also so that no one else will know if they have voted.
The result is widely expected to favor independence for the former Portuguese colony.
In a nationally televised address Sunday, Indonesian President B.J. Habibie appealed to East Timorese to stay with Indonesia.
"To all our brothers in East Timor, I want to call on them to remain united (with Indonesia) and to build a brighter future together with the rest of the Indonesian family,'' he said.
"All Indonesians pray to God our East Timorese brothers are given the direction to choose the right way, so together with brothers from other provinces they can continue implementing development.''
The ballot result must still be ratified by Indonesia's top legislative body, the People's Consultative Assembly, which is due to convene in October.