East Timor: Deaths mark election campaign's start

The start of the official campaign period for East Timor's June 30 parliamentary elections has been marred by violence, including killings. The most serious incidents took place in Viqueque district, where two men were shot dead on June 3. An investigation by the Major Crime Investigation Unit and the National Investigation Unit is underway, focusing on a number of East Timorese police officers (PNTL).

The two slain men were both supporters of the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), a new party formation headed by former president Xanana Gusmao. A June 3 CNRT media release stated that Afonso da Silva, a CNRT civil security officer, was shot in Viqueque town while riding his motorbike after participating in an election rally. The media release claimed that da Silva was shot five times by a PNTL officer who supported Fretilin. The officer, Luis de Silva, had been sighted in civilian dress near the rally. Other reports suggest more than one off-duty police officer was involved in the incident.

Later in the day, as CNRT supporters took the body of the deceased man to his family in the nearby town of Ossu, another man was shot and a youth wounded at a roadblock, again allegedly by PNTL officers. The ruling Fretilin party issued statements condemning the killings and protesting the claim that its supporters were involved. A June 3 Fretilin media release also claimed that da Silva (also known as Kudalai) was armed with a gun and that there "needs to be an inquiry to explain why a campaign team member of a political party was armed with a gun and to determine the person that provided him with that weapon".

On June 6 the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste deputy head, Eric Tan, confirmed that UN and East Timorese police were looking for officers involved in the shooting incidents and that PNTL officers in "Ossu, Uatulari and Viqueque Town have been placed on desk duties until the investigations are concluded and UNPol is patrolling the area in the meantime". Following negotiations, de Silva turned himelf in to police on June 7 and he has been charged with homicide.

Prior to the shootings, CNRT campaign vehicles had been stoned while travelling through Viqueque district. There was also a clash between CNRT and Fretilin supporters in the city of Baucau on May 31. On June 5, a campaign cavalcade for the Timorese Social Democratic Association/Social Democratic Party (ASDT/PSD) coalition was attacked at the village of Leuro in Lautem district. PSD spokesperson Joao Goncalves told the Lusa news service that "the attack was led by a group of radicals from Fretilin, which had raised barriers in the road and had mounted an ambush".

Viqueque, Baucau and Lautem are the three districts where Fretilin polled best in the April-May presidential election. They are of vital importance for Fretilin if the party is to retain a parliamentary majority and prevent an electoral rout on June 30. The CNRT and PSD/ASDT, along with the Democratic Party, pose the biggest threat to Fretilin's electoral base in these districts. The situation is further complicated by campaigning in support of CNRT by the Fretilin Mudanca group (sometimes referred to as the Fretilin reform group), a faction opposed to Fretilin's current leadership. The Fretilin leadership claims the group is violating the electoral laws by campaigning in support of CNRT.

Opposition parties and election observers have raised concerns over police involvement in intimidation and bias towards Fretilin in Viqueque. The European Union Election Observer Mission noted in its report on the second presidential round that "it is regrettable that the district police commander Gaspar da Costa remained active in the district during his voluntary leave, given the strong suspicions of intimidation against the opposition made against him in the first round".