Subject: SCMP: E.Timor: Party 'threatening post-poll retaliation'

South China Morning Post August 22, 2001


Party 'threatening post-poll retaliation'

Popular Fretilin intimidating voters with prospect of reprisals against opponents, UN observers charge


Photo: Xanana Gusmao: poll favourite

The political party of East Timor's independence heroes, Fretilin, has been accused of using intimidation, threats and "Indonesian-style" campaigning ahead of next week's general election.

Fretilin is expecting a landslide victory in the choice of a constituent assembly that will draft East Timor's first national constitution. And independence leader Xanana Gusmao is expected to become the country's first leader.

But a complaint lodged by the UN Media Mediation Unit accuses Fretilin of using the emotive phrase dasa rai, or "sweeping", as a threat against voters.

"They are saying vote for us or we will 'do a sweeping' in your area after August 30," an observer of the campaign period said.

Fretilin leaders have been told of international observers' concerns and, in the capital, Dili, at least, have moderated their language and claimed that by "sweeping" they meant the physical process of tidying up the streets after voting day.

But independent observers are not so sure. "It has come to the attention of the Media Mediation Panel from numerous sources both inside and outside political parties that a disturbing pattern of apparent verbal intimidation has become a focal point of the Fretilin campaign, especially in the districts," a formal complaint from the panel reads. It and other sources report numerous witnesses hearing Fretilin speakers in recent weeks threatening a post-election "sweep" in Maliana, Bobonaro and Same.

"This term has a very disturbing meaning for the people of East Timor because it recalls intimidation that occurred during the Indonesian occupation when the military used the same term to describe military operations conducted against the resistance. In 1999, before the popular consultation, pro-Indonesia militia groups also used the same term to threaten the population before the referendum," the panel noted.

"We are concerned that an atmosphere of suspicion and intimidation may be building in the closing weeks of the election campaign leading to a rise in fear and tension among the people," the panel's complaint said.

Some pro-Fretilin sources insist that remarks about sweeping have simply been misinterpreted and observers say apologies have been made. At a large rally in Dili on Saturday, Fretilin rhetoric was far more conciliatory.

"But even if genuine apologies are delivered and if they're clarifying their position in Dili, I'm concerned the damage is already done in the districts. I think this is a serious complaint which deserves serious attention," an international election observer said.

Another observer said: "It's got everybody wound up and we've had a variety of reports from the districts to confirm there is a distinct tone of intimidation out there.

"It's not only by Fretilin, but they are doing it the most and they are the ones who, most of all, should know better."

Fretilin has led the resistance to Indonesian rule for 25 years and its members have borne the brunt of formerly Indonesian "sweeps".

As in any election, each political party involved is making bold promises of free schooling, new housing, special care for veterans of the independence struggle and more in a festival of promises that in practice cannot conceivably be fulfilled.

But in a publication Cidadaun, produced by Yayasan Hak, the Human Rights Foundation in East Timor, concern has also been voiced about threats and coercion being used in the campaign.

"Old women in villages, who have been witness to tragedy after tragedy in this nation, grieve to imagine what will happen in the future" wrote Joaquim Fonseca, head of Yayasan Hak's policy advocacy division. "We pray that all the bad things that happened before will not happen again. That is their hope.

"It is public knowledge that the 1999 referendum was marked by violence because the underlying scenario of 'civil war' was deliberately manipulated by the Indonesian military. And yet rhetoric used during the current campaign differs little from that spouted by the pro-Indonesia militia and pro-Indonesia bigwigs."

August Menu
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from