UN delays vote in East Timor

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UN delays vote in East Timor

By Jon Land

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced on June 22 that the UN-administered vote in East Timor, scheduled to take place on August 8, would be delayed until August 21 or 22. In a special report to the Security Council, Annan said that the security situation was not conducive to the registration of the 400,000 voters, citing the ongoing activity of the pro-integration terror gangs.

 

David Wimhurst, spokesperson for the UN Assistance Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) told reporters on June 23 that the delay “will give everybody a chance to deal with security concerns, allow internally displaced people to return to their homes, and give us time to fully deploy”. A final decision on the new date will be made after the UN special representative for East Timor, Jamsheed Marker, presents a report to the Security Council on the findings of his visit on June 24-25.

The delay reflects poorly on the Indonesian government's role in maintaining security before the ballot. Indonesian foreign minister Ali Alatas responded to the announcement defensively: “We don't believe there should be a delay. We believe the security situation is constantly improving, and we are quite sure that by the time of August 8, or far before it, the security situation will be fully conducive.”

Leaders of the National Council of Timorese Resistance welcomed the delay. In a statement released on June 23, imprisoned resistance leader Xanana Gusmao said, “The existence of conditions of security and tranquillity in East Timor is a prerequisite and a sine qua non condition for the holding of a free, fair and democratic consultation”.

While security has begun to improve with the arrival of UN personnel in Dili and Baucau, villages and towns in rural and remote districts are under constant threat of attack by the pro-integration terror gangs. During their attempts to reach isolated communities, UN personnel, aid-workers and church representatives have been harassed and threatened by gang members.

A report by the Dili-based Committee for a Free and Fair Ballot released on the internet on June 23 provides a detailed account of the situation. The following section is typical of the conditions existing all across East Timor:

“Since June 1, in sub-district Hatolia, district Ermera, the pro-autonomy group, Forum for Unity, Democracy and Justice (FPDK) in Ermera, has collaborated with the People's Resistance (Wanra) and the Red Blood Militia, to 'socialize the autonomy plan' .... the leaders of these groups coerced the people into promising to vote for autonomy, and threatened to kill them if they reject the plan. Members of the TNI [Indonesian army] were seen guarding the members of FPDK, Wanra and Red Blood Militia. People in the area have to obediently follow the dictates of these groups; if they appear to hesitate in their support, they are arrested and abused.”

Other reports by Amnesty International and the Australian Council for Overseas Aid, based on recent observer missions to East Timor, confirm such incidents and are highly critical of the Indonesian military and police for failing to curb the violence of the pro-integration gangs.

None of the pro-integration gang leaders have been brought to account for their actions, even though Indonesian authorities know who and where they are.

In contrast, pro-independence activists are being forced to confess to crimes they did not commit. Eleven pro-independence activists went on trial in Dili on June 17 for a range of alleged crimes including murder, robbery and the possession of sharp weapons.

Video footage filmed in secret and screened on SBS news on June 24 also highlights the dire conditions of the thousands of people — mostly women and children — who have fled their homes and are now living in “camps” run by the Indonesian authorities and pro-integration gangs. The Dili office of the Catholic aid organisation Caritas estimates there are 52,000 people living in these camps.

The many people reluctant to return to their villages present a major problem for UNAMET in completing voter registration, which is due to begin on July 13. It is hoped that the arrival of more UN personnel in coming weeks will assist in the return of people to their homes.

There are also a host of logistic problems for UNAMET to deal with, some of which are of its own making. The deployment of personnel has been painfully slow, contributing to the failure to provide effective humanitarian relief and aid. This has been compounded by the Indonesian government refusing UNAMET access to airports other than those in Dili and Baucau.

Another problem is the relationship between UNAMET and the Commission for Peace and Stability (KPS). Under the May 5 agreement, the two bodies are to develop a code of conduct for the ballot on matters such as security. The KPS was formed by the Indonesian government on April 21 to give the appearance of attempting to calm the violence in East Timor.

It is unclear if ultimate authority for the code of conduct rests with UNAMET. Benjamin Mangkoedilaga, a retired judge and spokesperson for KPS, told journalists in Dili on June 23: “UNAMET and KPS have an equal position and will work together to supervise and organise the direct ballot”.

Many East Timorese are deeply cynical about the KPS, particularly because the peace accord brokered by it on April 21 did nothing to halt the violence of the pro-integration gangs.