"They banged against the window, yelling 1975 will happen again." Allie Epstein, 25-year-old student from Chicago, is still shocked by her experiences in East Timor. She witnessed violence in the town of Same, about five hours drive from the capital, Dili. Indonesian troops invaded East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, in 1975 starting nearly 25 years of war. About 200,000 people have been killed by bullets, hunger, sickness. At the time of the invasion, foreign correspondents described the situation as worse than in Cambodia.
The suppression continues today. Just two weeks ago Indonesia-backed militias attacked students in the town of Same. "A man came towards us, he was badly cut on his arm with a machete," recalls Epstein.
On Aug 30, East Timorese will decide if their country will be an independent state or an autonomous region in Indonesia. The UN-sponsored consultation process is marred by violence.
Epstein first became interested in East Timor five years ago while working with Amnesty International.
When Portugal and Indonesia struck an agreement on a popular consultation on East Timor's future, Epstein decided to become one of 120 volunteers trained by International Federation for East Timor (IFET) to observe the vote. "I felt it was a concrete way to help the process go forward. The presence of foreign observers could help to ensure a free and fair vote."
Epstein joined IFET Observer Project, the largest international observer mission in East Timor. IFET sends teams to all districts, and Epstein went to one of the hot spots. Her team reported at least once a day to IFET-OP's Dili Headquarters. Urgent news like the attack in Same was relayed immediately to the office that informs UNAMET, the international community and policymakers as well as the media.
IFET was founded in 1991 as a clearinghouse for non-governmental organizations to coordinate international efforts to support human rights, peace and self-determination in East Timor. IFET participates in UN hearings and conferences, supplies information, analyses and statements to media.
UNAMET accredited the IFET Observer Project, which opened its office in East Timor's capital, Dili, on June 22.
Allie Epstein can be contacted for interview in Chicago, Tel : 773 342 7545 or 773 561 5131. Allisonepstein@hotmail.com.
IFET- OP members include organizations from Australia: East Timor International Support Center , East Timor Relief Association , Brisbane East Timor Office, Campaign for an Independent East Timor, Australia-East Timor Association, Australians for a Free East Timor, Friends of East Timor, Hobart East Timor Committee, East Timor International Support Center, from Canada: East Timor Alert Network, Canadian Action for Indonesia and East Timor, from Fiji: Pacific Concerns Resource Centre , from Finland East Timor Group of Committee of 100, from France: Agir Pour Timor , Association Solidarite Timor-Oriental , from Germany: Watch Indonesia, Gesellschaft fuer Bedrohte Voelker (Society for Threatened Peoples), from Hong Kong: East Timor Roundtable , from Indonesia: Forum Solidaritas Untuk Rakyat Timor Lorosae (FORTILOS), from Ireland: East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign, from India: Indian Society for Human Rights, from Italy: Latin American and Mediterranean Coalition for East Timor, from Japan: Free East Timor, from Malaysia: East Timor Information Network , from the Netherlands: International Platform of Jurists for East Timor, from Norway: Norwegian Cooperation Council for East Timor and Indonesia, from the Philippines: Asia-Pacific Coalition on East Timor, Portugal: Com. para os Direitos do Povo Maubere , Paz e Justica para Timor Leste, A Paz e Possivel em Timor Leste, Movimento Christao para a Paz, from Spain: Instituto de Estudios Politicos para America Latina y Africa , from Sweden Osttimor Kommitten , from UK: East Timor Scotland Support Group, TAPOL , British Coalition for East Timor, from the USA: East Timor Action Network, International Secretariat, Parliamentarians for East Timor.
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