|Subject: AFP: Voter registration set to open
throughout East Timor Friday
Date: Sat, 17 Jul 1999 09:28:07 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Voter registration set to open throughout East Timor Friday
DILI, East Timor, July 15 (AFP) - UN blue berets were busy here Thursday preparing to register voters for landmark polls on the future of East Timor after getting an 11th-hour go-ahead from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
"As of 7:00 a.m Friday (2300 GMT Thursday) all 200 registration centers, each staffed with two electoral officers will open," said UN mission in East Timor (UNAMET) spokesman David Wimhurst.
Registration centers will also open simultaneously in Indonesia and overseas to cater to the thousands of East Timorese who have fled the former Portuguese colony since the Indonesian invasion in 1975, Wimhurst said.
He put the number of eligible voters inside the troubled territory at between 300,000 to 400,000 but had no immediate estimate for those in the diaspora, save that there were "thousands."
The flurry of activity followed an announcement by Annan in New York that registration should go ahead without delay Friday, despite continued violence and intimidation by anti-independence militias who are backed by the Indonesian army.
But Annan said he was not able to conclude at present that the necessary security conditions existed for next month's ballot to go ahead.
In the ballot voters will be asked whether they accept an offer of greater autonomy within Indonesia. If they reject it, Jakarta has said it may offer independence.
Annan, in a report to the UN Security Council, said even the 20-day registration period could be halted half way through if the climate of fear and intimidation in East Timor persists.
He said he had given the green light based on "positive assurances" from Indonesian authorities and "on the condition that meaningful, visible improvements in the security situation will be observed in the immediate future."
Ten days into the registration period, he would "determine whether there has been enough significant progress to continue," so that the East Timorese could vote "safely and free of intimidation."
Annan last Saturday decided to delay the start of registration by three days until Friday, asking Jakarta to rein in pro-integrationist militias who have been intimidating voters and harassing UN personnel.
In his letter to the Security Council, Annan noted that "violence and intimidation have continued to be carried out with impunity by pro-autonomy militias.
"Nevertheless, determined as I believe we should be to go ahead, undeterred by the intimidation, and in view of the need to adhere to the shortest possible time-frame, I have decided to begin the registration based on positive assurances by the Indonesian authorities," he said.
UNAMET chief Ian Martin, commenting on the 10-day reassessment, said security conditions would require "a substantial improvement."
"Only if it has (improved) will registration continue and be completed," he said, adding that special measures were being studied to handle some 60,000 refugees driven out of their homes by the intimidation.
Asked about the odds that violence might cancel the vote altogether, Martin replied: "There would be various possibilities, including the possibility of having to prolong registration."
Meanwhile US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Stanley Roth arrived from Jakarta to check the security situation.
"I've come to see the situation on the ground for myself," said Roth, who was accompanied by US ambassador to Indonesia Stapleton Roy.
"Obviously this is a crucial period in terms of the UN effort and whether registration can be conducted ... Annan having just decided to start the registration process, while making greater assessment about whether it's working or not."
On Wednesday Roth warned Jakarta that its relations with Washington would suffer if it failed to rein in the pro-integration militia.
"If the agreement falls apart, that obviously will have consequences and affect relations with a number of countries around the world, including my own," he said.