Vote in East Timor delayed again

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Vote in East Timor delayed again

By Jon Land

On July 28, a spokesperson for United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan announced that the referendum on independence for East Timor will be delayed yet again. August 30 has been scheduled as the new date for the ballot, pushed back from the weekend of August 21-22.

Annan's decision to delay the vote was made shortly after the passing of the half-way point in the 20-day registration period. While there has been a better than expected turnout for registration — nearly 234,000 East Timorese had registered to vote by July 27 — pro-integration gangs remain active and threatening across East Timor. A report by Annan to the UN Security Council stated that the security situation is still inadequate and that "new measures to control the armed groups are essential".

Human rights and solidarity groups have called for the Consultative Group on Indonesia (CGI) to suspend financial aid to Indonesia while military instigated violence continues in East Timor and other parts of Indonesia. The CGI, which is made up of 30 donor countries (including the US, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Germany, France, Spain and Italy) and chaired by the World Bank, downplayed the concerns and has agreed to provide $5.9 billion in loans to Indonesia following a meeting held in Paris on July 27 and 28.

Spokesperson for the United States-based East Timor Action Network John M. Miller said, "Indonesia should not receive any outside money [for] so long as its military continues to squander millions of dollars in attempts to undermine the UN ballot and a democratic decision by the East Timorese people". Social Safety net funds previously allocated by the World Bank to Indonesia have been channelled to support the pro-integration campaign and to groups directly and indirectly linked to the pro-integration gangs.

Many East Timorese in isolated villages and refugee camps remain too fearful to travel the long distances to the nearest registration centre. Pro-integration gangs are maintaining roadblocks and "command posts" in many sub-districts.

The aid organisation Caritas estimates that around 3000 people have been forced from their homes in districts in the western part of East Timor in the last fortnight, increasing the total number of refugees to at least 65,000.

More Indonesian riot police started to arrive in East Timor from July 26. Indonesia's police spokesperson in Dili, Captain Widodo, stated that the fresh contingent of 1300 brimob (mobile) police would "help bring more intensive security".

Indonesian foreign affairs minister Ali Alatas reacted angrily in response to the decision by the UN to delay the vote. Indonesian government officials and prominent pro-integration leaders continue to criticise the United Nations Assistance Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) for being biased and supporting independence.

Independent observers, East Timorese non-government organisations and UNAMET officials have constantly expressed concerns about the ongoing collaboration between the pro-integration gangs and the Indonesian military. The Carter Centre Weekly Report On East Timor released on July 27 stated that the "Centre is particularly concerned about persistent reports of Indonesian military involvement in the activities of pro-integration militia groups".

The main daily newspaper, Suara Timor Timur (which was ransacked by pro-integration gang members in April), has been flooded with letters from people in the districts of Baucau and Manatuto complaining about the large number of military personnel still present in these areas.

In contrast to the behaviour of the pro-integration gangs, Falintil, the armed wing of the independence struggle, has largely upheld a unilateral cease-fire it declared at the end of last year.

Representatives from the Commission on Peace and Stability, along with UNAMET representative Brigadier-General Rezaqul Haider, met with Falintil commander Taur Matan Ruak and other Falintil commandantes on July 26. Falintil has agreed to confine its troops to certain areas. "Falintil has ... asked the UNAMET to witness and verify that and I think that is an important step forward", UNAMET head Ian Martin told reporters after the meeting.

There has been no such pledge made by the leaders of the pro-integration gangs, who refuse to disarm or disband. Australian Foreign Affairs minister Alexander Downer during his "historical" visit to East Timor on July 30-31 met and shook hands with these leaders of the pro-integration organisations - thugs whom are responsible for hundreds of deaths in past months and who have threatened more killings if there is a vote in favour of independence.

Downer, who before leaving for Indonesia and East Timor last week had said that those "responsible for violence and killings in East Timor must be brought to account", failed to make any such public comment during his visit. Nor did he make any statement on the serious social crisis in Aceh caused by the repressive role of the Indonesian military and police.