International Federation for East Timor
Observer Project

IFET-OP Report #3:
As Registration Period Nears End, Political Space and Political Violence Simultaneously Increase

For Immediate Release: 3 August 1999
For further information contact either:

East Timor field office (Dili)
Joseph Nevins or Will Seaman
Tel. 62-390-321969 fax:62-390-321264

International coordinator (New York)
Charles Scheiner
Tel:1-914-428-7299 fax:1-914-428-7383

Press Liason (New York)
John Miller

[Note: The International Federation for East Timor Observer Project (IFET-OP) is composed of trained volunteers from a variety of countries throughout the world. IFET-OP opened its office in Dili on June 22, and now has seventeen observers in East Timor, with dozens more due to arrive in the next few weeks. By mid-August, IFET-OP intends to have teams of observers in each of East Timor's 13 districts. IFET-OP is accredited by UNAMET as a non-partisan observer mission. As such, IFET-OP will carefully monitor the human rights situation as it relates to the UNAMET-run consultation process, voter registration, political campaigning, and the actual vote. IFET-OP will produce reports, including a final one evaluating the entire consultation process.]

Dili, East Timor -- Well over 300,000 East Timorese have registered to vote in the upcoming "popular consultation" as the voter registration period nears an end (scheduled for August 4). This is a significant achievement on the part of the East Timorese people and UNAMET personnel.

Although the registration process has been largely successful, surpassing by far the pre-registration expectations of most observers, tens of thousands of refugees have not yet been able to register. This is largely due to a continuing climate of intimidation and terror created by the Indonesian military-backed militia forces. While the security situation has improved in a number of ways, intimidation and physical violence are still pervasive throughout many parts of East Timor. In this regard, the security situation is still far from what is necessary to ensure a free and fair process. This problem is magnified by the fact that the political campaign phase of the Consultation process will soon begin. As United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted in his July 27, 1999 letter to the U.N. Security Council, "conditions required for a largely technical exercise such as registration are notably less stringent than those which will be necessary for campaigning in the run-up to the consultation."

In addition, there are persistent reports that the stockpiling of weapons is taking place in many parts of East Timor, especially in the western part of the territory. Fear is pervasive among many in East Timor that militias and elements of the Indonesian military will use these weapons either to disrupt the vote scheduled for August 30, 1999 and/or to engage in acts of terrorism after the announcement of the results of the ballot. Given such factors, IFET-OP recommends that the international community greatly increase security-related resources to facilitate the realization of the UNAMET mandate. Otherwise, IFET-OP fears that the ballot may be followed, not by peace in East Timor, but by greater levels of Indonesian military-orchestrated violence.

This report is based on registration observation and field visits in the districts of Ainaro, Bobonaro, Dili, Liquica, and Manufahi (Same) during the period of July 23-August 2, 1999. It is also based on discussions with UNAMET officials and staff, with East Timorese civilians, and with representatives from a number of international, Indonesian, and East Timorese non-governmental organizations.

Our major preoccupations concern the continued activity by TNI-supported paramilitary groups in many areas of the territory, and a seeming upturn in political violence within the last week directed against supporters of East Timorese independence. The persistence of intimidation of would-be voters in certain areas is also cause for worry. Finally, another major point of concern is the continuing presence of tens of thousands of internally-displaced persons, and the inability of most of them to register to vote. Paramilitary Groups and Political Violence: Paramilitary groups continue to operate in many parts of East Timor with impunity. In spite of ample evidence that paramilitary groups are guilty of acts of politically-inspired violence.

On Friday, July 30, 1999, for example, officials of the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) visited internal refugees in the village of Faulara in the district of Liquica to bring them humanitarian assistance. Shortly after the UNHCR's departure (approximately 4:00pm), local militia members burnt down the houses of at least five different persons who had gone to Hatolia to register at the UNAMET site. IFET-OP has seen video footage of the dwellings' burning, and interviewed an eyewitness.

On Sunday, August 1, 1999, two militia members reportedly shot and killed a local leader of the pro-independence National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT) in Taibesse, just west of Dili. The assassination took place at approximately 5:30am as the victim was going to church.

On the same day, IFET-OP observers witnessed militia members armed with automatic weapons casually walking in the center of the town of Maubisse (district of Ainaro) in front of Indonesian police and military offices. Local residents informed the IFET-OP observers that such activities happen regularly and that militia members frequently walk in and out of the local police station and local military installations.

Also in Maubisse, many local residents and sources associated with the local Catholic Church reported that the militias are stockpiling high-powered weapons. IFET-OP observers received a similar report on the same day from two individuals in an eastern suburb of Dili, and from various persons a few days earlier in the Ainaro region. A UNAMET Civilian Police Officer in the latter area informed the IFET-OP team that he had recently witnessed members of the Indonesian military distributing weapons to militia members.

Such events and reports suggest that, at best, the Indonesian government is incapable of fulfilling its obligation under the May 5 United Nations accord to "[maintain] peace and security in East Timor" so that the consultation process is "fair and peaceful." More likely, what the evidence demonstrates is that the Indonesian military has little interest in disarming and disbanding the paramilitaries. It is hard to imagine, for example, that the Indonesian authorities would tolerate (or at least not employ significant levels of force to eliminate) armed, pro-independence groups which routinely patrol around significant population centers, and which have posts in major towns, as the local militia groups does in many locations in Dili.

Furthermore, the evidence exposes the hollowness of the Indonesian government's attempt to depict the conflict in East Timor as one between armed pro-independence groups and armed pro-integration groups autonomous from the Indonesian authorities. Finally, the evidence suggests the poverty of the security arrangements for the United Nations Consultation process in East Timor given that it continues to allow the Indonesian government to be responsible for security.

Intimidation of Potential Voters: Related to the question of pro-integration militia activity is the matter of intimidation of would-be voters. IFET-OP has interviewed persons from an eastern suburb of Dili who report that local militia members have threatened to kill them and many other people in their neighborhood if the pro-independence option wins the August 30 ballot.

In the area of Aileu, local sources have informed IFET-OP that uniformed Indonesian police officers have been going from house to house pressuring people to vote for the autonomy option in the August 30 vote.

And in the Ainaro region, local sources reported to IFET-OP observers that the TNI and the police are telling people that there will be much bloodshed if the pro-independence option wins in the upcoming ballot, and that they have tanks and warplanes waiting. The local police chief has even stated that the police have 100 automatic weapons in storage, in preparation for future needs.

Finally, individuals interviewed by IFET-OP volunteers in many parts of East Timor report that there are far more Indonesian soldiers in East Timor than there appears to be. Many TNI members reportedly now simply dress in civilian clothing.

These reports, combined with ongoing acts of politically-motivated violence, have serious implications for the political environment necessary to ensure that the forthcoming vote be an accurate reflection of the true desires of the East Timorese people.

Internal Refugees: Press reports and interviews with individuals within East Timor working with internal refugees indicate that thousands of the refugees have been able to return to their homes over the last couple of weeks. While precise numbers are hard to come by given the fluidity of the situation, the number of internal refugees is undoubtedly still in the tens of thousands. Most of these people have not yet been able to register to vote. Unless UNAMET makes significant exceptions to the registration process deadline, a large portion of the East Timorese population will have been effectively shut out of the Consultation process as a result of TNI/paramilitary violence. Recommendations:


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