|Subject: AFP: August ballot date for East Timor
criticised as dangerously late
Date: Sat, 01 May 1999 08:47:04 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
August ballot date for East Timor criticised as dangerously late
DILI, East Timor, April 27 (AFP) - Community leaders in East Timor warned Tuesday that August was too late for a referendum on autonomy and would give pro-Indonesia miltias months to carry out their campaign of intimidation.
Indonesian President B.J. Habibie announced the August 8 date earlier in the day at a summit with Australian Premier John Howard in the resort island of Bali. The vote had originially been pencilled in for July.
Habibie also said he had approved a draft agreement on the voting mechanism for East Timor's 800,000 people so that a final autonomy package could be signed at the United Nations on May 5.
But a member of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Roman Catholic diocese of Dili said the referendum should be brought forward for security reasons.
"If East Timorese have to wait until August 8 for the polling then the people might have all been killed by then," the member, who asked to remain anonymous, told AFP.
"The people are dying and under constant threat from militias who have every day intimidated and forced people to agree to join with Indonesia," he added.
Hendardi (EDS: one name), a lawyers for jailed East Timorese rebel leader Xanana Gusmao and head the Indonesian Association for Legal Aid and Human Rights, agreed the vote was too late.
"This date further reinforces our impression that there are efforts to delay the voting so that Indonesia's politics of mobilizing the masses can be put to use to give rise to the impression that people in East Timor want autonomy," Hendardi said by telephone from Jakarta.
He said pro-Indonesian groups in East Timor, including the Kamra military auxiliary force, were stepping up pressure to force the local population to accept the autonomy scheme.
"They (the militias) have been forcing people to sign forms saying they approve of the integration (with Indonesia). In Dili, the militia, including the Kamra, have been going door-to-door yesterday evening," Hendardi said.
"What is more important is that efforts should be made by all to bring an immediate halt to the climate of violence in East Timor and to reduce to the minimun the tension between the two groups in East Timor," Hendardi said.
Pro-Indonesian miltias have stepped up a reign of terror against independence activists this month, carrying out several massacres which have left scores dead.
The chairman of the Dili-based Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, Aniceto Guterres, said the setting of the date was "a fait-accompli" by Habibie.
"We have no choice, this is a schedule set unilaterally by Habibie. If you ask me it is much too early," said Guterres.
He reasoned that what East Timor needed was not just a final solution but also peace for East Timor, adding that peace could only come through reconciliation -- a long time process.
"Democracy is one thing, but the people should be free of pressure and adequately informed of the option. People should also be prepared to accept the other's victory and their own defeat," Guterres said.
Guterres also mentioned the many reports of pro-Indonesian groups actively forcing people to sign up documents saying they accepted autonomy.
"This afternoon, I have just received reports from women civil servants at the mayor's office who said that they had been asked to sign a document saying they accepted autonomy," he said.
"The autonomy deal itself has yet to be signed and nobody here has an inkling of what it contains, but people are already asked to sign these documents," Guterres said.
Emanuel de Freites, an elderly East Timorese resident, felt dismayed at the late poll date which he felt would jeopardize the lives of more Timorese.
"Sooner is better for all of us. Both opposing groups are too suspicious of each other and that creates too much tension in our lives," he said.
The ballot was decided after Jakarta in January said it was prepared to let go of East Timor, which it invaded in 1975 and annexed the following year, if the people there rejected the autonomy offer.