|Subject: The People of East Timor Vote in the Face
Date: Thu, 2 Sep 1999 10:21:28 -0700 (PDT)
From: Asia Pacific Center for Justice and Peace <email@example.com>
The People of East Timor Vote in the Face of Violence
Asia Pacific Center for Justice and Peace September 1, 1999
On August 30, the people of East Timor defied pervasive fear and intimidation and cast their ballots in massive numbers for the territory's future. Over 98% of registered voters turned out at the polling stations observed by the Asia Pacific Center delegation; similar numbers were recorded by United Nations staff throughout East Timor. Entire villages arrived at polling centers together and waited patiently for hours in the sun for their turn to vote. The reverential atmosphere surrounding the vote reflected the admonitions of Bishop Belo and other religious leaders for the East Timorese to vote their conscience. Their courage and determination deserve international applause and support.
The United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) carried out a logistically difficult operation under hostile conditions. In all locations we observed, we found the ballot process to be technically clean and honest. UNAMET staff, especially local East Timorese, performed their duties in a conscientious, unbiased fashion. While polling stations varied somewhat in formality and procedures, we found no instance where voting was affected. When voters needed explanation of the ballot, this was given impartially. We saw no attempt to influence voters.
Indonesian authorities, however, attempted to influence the referendum at all levels. We observed villagers trucked by coercion to pro-"autonomy" rallies during the campaign period and brought by Indonesian police across the border with West Timor to vote. We interviewed militia who were paid in cash and rice. Pro-Indonesian T-shirts and hats were handed out widely. In several locations, armed police and local militia leaders remained close to polling stations throughout the day, in violation of electoral regulations. Local militia, pro-independence and religious leaders are certain that Indonesian military provide the motivating force behind these cases of intimidation.
We observed blatant disregard by the Indonesian police (POLRI and BRIMOB) for their security obligations under Article 3 of the May 5th bilateral agreement. In the town of Gleno, Ermera district, four members of our delegation were held hostage yesterday along with UNAMET staff. We heard automatic weapons, believed by local residents to come from Kopassus special forces, firing on the UN helicopter as it attempted to retrieve the ballot boxes. Militia burned houses and blocked a UN convoy for over seven hours. Heavily armed police refused to intervene at any point.
Such violence continues to occur after the referendum. Our concern extends in particular to local UNAMET staff who are the targets of Indonesia-backed reprisals. Responsibility for their security lies solely with the Indonesian police. Yet Indonesian authorities encourage militia groups to remain armed, using them as surrogates to destabilize the territory. The militia in themselves are not the problem; the fundamental conflict lies between the Indonesian military and the East Timorese people. Therefore, we strongly oppose sending any further Indonesian troops to East Timor. Indeed, if Indonesia would withdraw its forces, we believe militia violence would cease.
We appeal to the United States and the international community to exert pressure on the Indonesian government and military in the strongest possible terms. Foreign aid should be halted until Indonesia ends violence against UN personnel and respects the result of the referendum. An increased security role for the UN in East Timor is imperative. We call for an end to Indonesian interference so that the East Timorese people can work together for a peaceful future.
The Asia Pacific Center for Justice and Peace is a non-profit advocacy organization based in Washington, DC. Our ecumenical observer delegation to East Timor includes members of the National Council of Churches (USA) East Timor Working Group along with representatives of other denominations. We are hosted by the Christian Church of East Timor (GKTT). Our team of 14 chose to concentrate our efforts in four districts of East Timor - Ermera, Liquica, Bobonaro, and Dili where the GKTT expressed a need for foreign observers. We accompanied groups of voters on foot from their villages to the polls and stayed at polling stations throughout the balloting, allowing us to develop in depth knowledge of local conditions.
Contact: Miriam Young Dili Phone # (0390)313-948
Asia Pacific Center for Justice and Peace, 110 Maryland Ave. NE, #504, Washington DC 20002 Tel: 202-543-1094 Fax: 202-546-5103 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org