East Timor: Will the ballot stop the bloodshed?


By Chris Latham

Voter registration for the August 30 ballot on autonomy or independence for East Timor finished on August 6. Around 427,000 people registered. The large number of registrations is significant, reflecting the refusal of the East Timorese people to be intimidated by the Jakarta-backed pro-integration terror gangs and the Indonesian army (TNI).

It is clear, however, that the violence will continue up to the ballot and after. On August 5 and 6, the UN Assistance Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) was attacked by terror gangs. There are reports that the "militias" are stockpiling weapons and preparing terror attacks if the vote rejects autonomy.

On August 10, the East Timor Student Solidarity Council Information Centre in the district of Viqueque, about 200 kilometres east of Dili, was attacked. Two students were abducted. The following day the militias shot at the information centre, killing two students and injuring several others.

The police headquarters in Viqueque is located just 300 metres from where the attack occurred, yet no action was taken to protect the students or apprehend the gang members. This is not surprising, since it is the TNI and the police that have been repressing the East Timorese people for the last 25 years.

The Indonesian regime, especially General Wiranto, defence minister and head of the armed forces, has attempted to depict the violence as clashes between "rival factions". It claims that the task confronting TNI is to prevent the outbreak of another civil war such as occurred in 1975.

In reality, if civil war does break out, it will be the result of the Indonesian regime's arming and funding of the militias. In 1975, Indonesian military intelligence instigated civil unrest in order to provide the pretext to invade East Timor.

There are no warring "factions" in East Timor. In the response to the violence by the TNI and the terror gangs, the pro-independence Falintil (Armed Forces for the Liberation of East Timor) has implemented a cease-fire and begun to move its guerillas into four camps in the mountains for the duration of the ballot.

The leadership of the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT) has offered to accept pro-integration supporters into a government of national unity if the people vote for independence.

Falintil commander Taur Matan Ruak said on August 7 that the result of the ballot will be accepted by his fighters if the vote is "democratic and free".

A vote against autonomy will not result in immediate independence. Before independence is formally won, legislation must be passed by a meeting of Indonesia's parliament, the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR). The first MPR session is not due until late October. This will give TNI and the terror gangs two months to continue the violence in East Timor.

The violence has resulted in calls from human rights organisations for a larger UN police presence. The UN will have a limited impact as long as the Indonesian regime is responsible for security. Any genuine attempt to end violence in East Timor requires the immediate withdrawal of all Indonesian military personnel and the disarming of the militias.

We need to demand that the Australian government impose an arms embargo on Indonesia and sever all military ties. This would have a significant impact on the regime's capacity to continue to repress the people in East Timor, Aceh, West Papua and the rest of Indonesia.

The Australian trade union movement should impose bans on Indonesian companies, as the ACTU threatened to do in May.

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