Subject: AFP: Voters intimidated in ETimor: rights group

Agence France Presse

April 12, 2007

Voters intimidated in ETimor: rights group

DILI, April 12 2007

An East Timor human rights group said Thursday it had received reports that supporters of the troubled nation's ruling party had intimidated voters ahead the country's presidential election.

"We have reports from the districts and we noted an increase of violence from Fretilin members," said Jose Luis de Oliveira, of the human rights group Yayasan HAK.

Fretilin, the ruling party in East Timor, has previously been accused of intimidatory tactics and a lack of openness.

Its candidate, Francisco Guterres, will contest a May 8 presidential runoff with Jose Ramos-Horta, East Timor's prime minister, after a closely fought first round on Monday between eight candidates ended in stalemate.

There were reports of increased violence in Viqueque, Baucau and Ermeira districts, de Oliveira said.

"In Ermeira, on the last day of the campaign, Fretilin members beat a Catholic priest and one journalist," he said.

The reports received by Yayasan HAK indicated intimidatory door-to-door campaigning by Fretilin, he said.

"They noted the identity numbers of people and said if you don't choose Fretilin, your number will show on the computer. Even if that's not true, people are afraid."

But Fretilin spokesman Filomeno Aleixo took issue with the claim of intimidation.

"Fretilin never encourages our people to use violence," he said. "In fact people were intimidated not to vote for our candidate."

"We have been targeted too," Aleixo said.

International observers have said the election was generally open, orderly and peaceful despite fears that the former Portuguese colony's violent history heralded poll unrest.

But de Oliveira said while election day may have gone well, international observers lacked a proper understanding of the situation in East Timor.

"They cannot see or feel what's happening," he said, adding there could be more intimidation ahead of the runoff vote.

Monday's poll was the first presidential election in East Timor since its independence in 2002, but has been clouded by growing calls for a recount and allegations its was conducted unfairly.

Indonesian occupation of East Timor ended in 1999 with a bloody split, and violence has pulsed through the impoverished state since then. International peacekeepers were dispatched last year to restore order.

seb-skj/jc


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