Subject: Age: Joy, mixed with fear of the unknown

Also: Radio Australia - The People Speak

The Age [Melbourne] August 31, 2001

Joy, mixed with fear of the unknown


Waiting patiently in the hot sun to cast their vote, the old men of the village cried tears of joy when independence leader Jose Ramos Horta arrived with words of encouragement.

For one grizzled old guerrilla veteran, his face hardly visible under the shade of a huge sombrero, it was a moment of overpowering emotion.

Laurantino da Silva, 65, a former Falintil guerrilla commander, said he last saw Mr Ramos Horta in 1975, the year Indonesia invaded.

On the second anniversary of the 1999 referendum to end Indonesian rule, he said he was overjoyed to be able to vote again - this time peacefully - to realise his dream of an independent homeland.

"Today, we are excited and very happy. It is not like 1999. We stand very firm and we are very happy our leaders are here with us."

Mr Ramos Horta, East Timor's cabinet member for foreign affairs, responded with a call for the people of Aidabasalala, once a stronghold of the Halintar anti-independence militia, to respect the election outcome.

"But we are very anxious about what will happen after the election. How do we know there will be no violence?" said 22-year-old Jacinto Barros.

Perhaps Mr Barros was thinking of the fate of 1000 men from Aidabasalala and nearby Atabae villages who are living on the other side of the border in militia-controlled camps in West Timor.

Turning to face his questioner, Mr Ramos Horta responded: "Unlike 1999, the Indonesian army is not here, the militia is not here, the Indonesian police are not here.

"The Australian peacekeepers are here and they will not leave.

"You have suffered enough and we will not let anyone ever again harm you."

The old men listening to the exchange were moved to tears and reached out to grab his hand and kiss it. Mr Ramos Horta and the head of the UN administration, Sergio Vieira de Mello, had arrived by helicopter on the first stop of a tour of the western border area on election day.

All along the dusty road linking Aidabasalala with the main district town of Maliana throngs of smiling people, dressed in their Sunday best, were heading on foot to the nearest polling booth. By 8am several thousand people clutching UN voter identity cards were lined up outside the Maliana gymnasium. Unlike 1999, there was no rush and little anxiety. Mothers cradled babies, old women squatted to chew betel nut and swap gossip.

Mr de Mello said that before setting off yesterday he had received a moving email message from Linda and Charlie Manning, the parents of New Zealand soldier Leonard Manning, shot dead in a militia ambush last year.

"They wanted to wish me good luck and said their son, Leonard Manning, died for this to be possible." Mr de Mello said the election was a tribute to Private Manning and Nepalese peacekeeper Private Deviran Jaisa, also killed by militia.

Radio Australia


Radio Australia's Tricia Fitzgerald takes to the streets of Dili to find out what people think about East Timor's first elections.

Domingos dos Santos:

Domingos dos Santos is an old man from Maubisse who now lives in Massaur, the easternmost suburb of Dili. He is a subsistence farmer cultivating corn, cassava and sweet potatoes.

He says the election makes him happy. "Happy because of the Timor Nation. Timor wants to stand on his own."

The party that will get his vote is the one he says he has grown up with, one of East Timor's long established political groups the Timorese Social Democratic Association (ASDT).

"When I was born, I was born with that (pointing to the ASDT flag). When I was born, this one opened the way first, that's why now we live with that. We don't know the others."

"We only want our to be that one." he continues, pointing at the ASDT flag. "We are ignorant. We know nothing. We don't know to read or write. We don't know anything else or to pick which party. Ours is that one."

Tomé :

Tomé, 18 is a street vendor selling the daily papers and phone cards.

He lives in Balide and says he is happy about the election because "it is a proof that Timor can indeed become independent."

At the moment, Tomé is not sure which party he will vote for, saying he will make his decision on election day, however he hope that whoever wins will "uphold the moral values such as respect for other people and prevent violence from taking place."


Meta is 24 and unemployed. She lives in Fatuhada.

"The upcoming election is a good opportunity for the East Timorese to learn to trust each other, and accept whatever the result of the election is." she says.

"The party that is the winner must think of the people."

"When I vote I will consider the programs of the parties and I will pick the programs that respond to the contemporary needs of people like education. The government should help those who can't afford it .. from kindergarten to high school."

Nelson Henrique Martins:

Nelson Henrique Martins, 26, is a Border Control officer and lives in Fatuhada.

The election he says, "will be peaceful because the East Timorese understand that they need to build a democratic country."

Nelson says he will make his voting decision after considering the contesting party's history and programs and he is also cautious about parties, which make too many promises.

For him the important issues are education and adequate living standards for workers and the common people.

Luciana da Silva:

Luciana da Silva, 45 from Audian, is a mother of 12. Her brother died during the Indonesian invasion.

She says she is happy about the election because "the people get to choose what is good for the country."

When she votes she will consider the party's history as well as its programs. For her the most important programs are education and she says that the government should help parents who cannot afford an education for their children

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