Subject: AP: East Timor Gears Up for Elections

East Timor Gears Up for Elections

The Associated Press, Sat 13 Apr 2002

LIQUICA, East Timor (AP) — Former independence activist Gregoria Dos Santos can't remember the number of times he was arrested and tortured during Indonesia's occupation of East Timor.

Now, the 48-year old sits playing with his grandchildren on his porch, preparing to vote on Sunday for his country's first democratically elected president.

Like many people here, he says he doesn't care who wins.

``The important thing is that we can vote,'' he said. ``And we are no longer scared.''

Dos Santos would not say who he would choose in the poll, the final step toward nationhood for East Timor after three centuries of Portuguese colonial rule, 24 years of Indonesian occupation and almost three years of temporary U.N. administration.

On May 20, the United Nations will hand over the running of the country to an East Timor government and the world's newest nation will be born.

Former guerrilla leader Xanana Gusmao is widely expected to win the top job. His sole challenger, Francisco Xavier do Amaral, has said he is only running to provide the electorate with a choice.

The country of 800,000 people has been under U.N administration since it voted overwhelmingly in August 1999 to break away from Indonesia in a referendum.

The U.N.-organized ballot was accompanied by a wave of violence and destruction by the Indonesian military and their local militia proxies. The rampage only stopped when international peacekeepers arrived on Sept. 20, 1999, three weeks after the referendum.

In Liquica, 20 miles west along the coast from Dili, the brutality and destruction of the pro-Jakarta gangs is still evident.

Dozens of buildings are burned. A memorial marks the spot where militiamen shot or hacked to death 40 people in a church compound a few months before the referendum.

The violence was part of a campaign by the military to intimidate people into voting to remain part of Indonesia.

Dos Santos said the terror tactics were unable to crush his country's desire for freedom. Neither was the torture he endured, which included electric shocks, he said.

``It was our right to be free. Whatever the consequences, we had to face it,'' said Dos Santos, who ran a local branch of an underground resistance movement.

In August, the country voted peacefully and in large numbers to elect an 88-member assembly that has since drawn up the nation's first constitution.

U.N officials are predicting a high turnout on Sunday. Almost 444,000 people are registered to vote and more than 2,000 international and local monitors will observe the proceedings.

The results are scheduled to be announced on Wednesday, but indications of the winner could appear by Monday evening.

Some analysts predict Gusmao may end up taking 80 percent of the votes. Do Amaral, who served for nine days as president after Portugal withdrew in 1975 until Indonesia invaded, has said he expects to lose the poll.

For years, Gusmao led a guerrilla army fighting against Indonesia's military. Approximately 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed during Indonesian rule.

Gusmao was captured in 1992 and spent seven years in an Indonesian prison, where he continued campaigning for an independent East Timor.

Despite his record, Gusmao has been a reluctant candidate for the top job. The former soccer player has said that ex-guerilla fighters don't always make good civilian leaders. Once he claimed he would rather cultivate pumpkins than run the country.

If he wins, he will have a full-time job getting the country back on its feet. It has the lowest per capita income in Southeast Asia.

Outside Dili, where hotels and cafes have sprung up to serve some 6,000 U.N personnel and troops stationed in the capital, there is little infrastructure. Most of the country's 800,000 people live in grinding poverty.

The country has some oil and gas reserves, but little else it can export. Analysts predict it will be dependent on foreign aid for years to come.

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