Subject: SCMP: Gusmao predicts overwhelming majority for independence
Date: Thu, 19 Aug 1999 22:18:26 EDT
From: Joyo@AOL.COM

South China Morning Post Friday, August 20, 1999

EAST TIMOR

Gusmao tips big majority for independence

VAUDINE ENGLAND in Jakarta

Pro-independence leader Xanana Gusmao believes his followers will win an overwhelming majority in this month's autonomy ballot, despite what he describes as the Indonesian armed forces' strategy to achieve a 50-50 result.

The ballot offers the territory autonomy within Indonesia. If that is rejected it will pave the way for independence.

"Before, I always said that 95 per cent will choose [independence], but some people say I am too optimistic,'" Gusmao said in Jakarta, where he is under house arrest.

"But I think the East Timorese people will show an overwhelming victory in the ballot."

His comments came as the United Nations Assistance Mission in East Timor (Unamet) yesterday called on authorities to arrest militia members threatening voters ahead of the referendum.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres backed the UN's call and urged Jakarta to stop turning a blind eye to militia violence in the former Portuguese colony.

"It is now clear that Indonesia's authorities and army are allowing these acts of provocation and desperation by pro-integration militias to take place," he said in Lisbon.

Gusmao also admitted his impatience for the ballot to happen was over-shadowed by his preoccupation with the continuing violence in the land which Indonesia annexed by force in 1976.

The latest militia attacks in Suai and Maliana, and the public presence of gun-toting militiamen, only serve to strengthen Gusmao's belief that the Indonesian military (TNI) cannot be trusted.

"[TNI chief] General Wiranto has closed his eyes to the militias, he has closed his eyes to the violence," Gusmao said.

"This shows the strategy of the TNI - they started the violence to intimidate the population, just to get a 50-50 result.

"Many people from the pro-integration side, they say that the ballot is not the finishing, not the ultimate act and that the MPR [People's Consultative Assembly] can still determine the decision, if it accepts or rejects the result of the ballot."

The MPR, Indonesia's highest constitutional body, is required to validate the result of the ballot.

Most observers are assuming the pro-independence side will win a strong majority, forcing the MPR to take the necessary steps towards independence. But a less clear margin of victory would allow for delays in the MPR and possible intervention.

"I myself cannot understand. I am not an expert on the Indonesian political process," Gusmao said. "But somebody told me that with this confusion in the MPR, one idea is that Wiranto would constitutionally take over, and oh my God," he said, crossing himself.

He said his meetings with his counterparts on the pro-autonomy side had focused on avoiding more bloodshed in East Timor.

Gusmao has built a pivotal role for himself as the conciliatory leader willing to forgive past transgressions by militia and the Indonesian armed forces.

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