Subject: AP: East Timorese Vote in Indonesian Election
Date: Sat, 12 Jun 1999 10:56:06 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <fbp@igc.apc.org>

East Timorese Vote in Indonesia

.c The Associated Press

By KEVIN COSTELLOE

DILI, Indonesia (AP) -- East Timorese turned out under duress Monday for an election that many in the troubled territory had shrugged off as irrelevant.

Voters said the Indonesian authorities and their militant supporters coerced people into participating in national parliamentary elections, reasoning that a high turnout would mean support for remaining part of Indonesia.

For East Timor, the important vote is scheduled for Aug. 8, when a U.N.-supervised referendum will let the former Portuguese colony choose between independence and autonomy within Indonesia.

Fear and intimidation were evident at polling stations. Whenever a voter started to speak to reporters, a menacing crowd gathered almost immediately.

``I really didn't want to take part in today's voting. But Indonesian security officials and police spies told me if I didn't vote, they'd come and take me away,'' said Antonio Luis Soares, 36. ``I'm very afraid now. I already spent two years in prison for taking part in a pro-independence demonstration.''

``The authorities told me that if I didn't vote, there would be bad consequences,'' said 40-year-old Augusto Gomes, another independence supporter. ``They'd come and interrogate me. I'm very afraid of that.''

The Indonesian government has denied allegations that it is supporting pro-Indonesian militias in East Timor.

Domingos Ribeiro, 30, said he had been coerced into voting by the militias.

``Those people threatened me,'' Ribeiro said outside a polling station in the Dili suburb of Becora, the site of militia violence earlier this year. ``They said if I didn't vote, then something bad would happen.''

Nobel laureate Bishop Carlos Belo, who shared the 1996 peace prize for his efforts to bring about reconciliation in East Timor, did not vote Monday, although he had registered.

``We have contacted Mr. Belo and he said he said he would not formally take part in the election,'' election official Tos Soares said. ``The reason is he has so many programs.''

Dozens, sometimes hundreds of people waited patiently at Dili's polling stations, many of them set up outdoors in fenced-off enclosures guarded only by civil defense personnel.

Though there were frequent patrols in the early-morning hours, police kept a lower profile once the voting got under way.

The results from poverty-ridden East Timor will have little overall impact on the Indonesian election. Only 800,000 of Indonesia's 210 million people live there.

Human rights groups claim about 250,000 people have lost their lives in the fighting since Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975. Indonesia disputes the figure but acknowledges human rights abuses occurred.

AP-NY-06-07-99 1810EDT

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