Greater Pressure needed to protect East Timorese People and assure peaceful Consultation process

31. August 1999

Statement by International Federation for East Timor Observer Project

IFETAlthough Mondays balloting was largely free of violence and intimidation, IFET-OP sees that day as more the exception than the rule. Ongoing attention and pressure from the international community is required if the consultation process in East Timor is to conclude freely and peacefully.

On Consultation Day, more than 95% of East Timors registered voters went to the polls, vividly demonstrating their commitment and desire for a peaceful resolution of their political status. The day was a largely a respite from the carnage that preceded it. East Timorese voters demonstrated tremendous courage in going to the polls amidst a context of intimidation and threats.

Although yesterdays voting was peaceful in most of East Timor, violent incidents and intimidation disrupted the process in a number of places, including the killing of a UNAMET election worker in Ermera. Seven polling stations had to close temporarily in order to deal with threats or violence from pro-Indonesia militias. The fact that nearly all registered voters cast their ballots is a tribute to their determination to transcend the climate of terror.

Election day Suai

Election Day in Suai

Photo: Anna Voss

Many East Timorese are afraid of a militia-initiated bloodbath in the days after the announcement of the results of the vote. Given the history of militia violence in East Timor over the last few months, and the killings in Dili last Thursday and Friday, this fear is well-founded.

Today there have been numerous confrontations, roadblocks, and threats both against East Timorese people and against international observers. Militia beat up an Australian observer from the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) and his driver in Hera. In Ermera, armed militia threatened an IFET-OP observer at gunpoint. Later in the day, militia members held 151 UNAMET staff and international observers (including seven from IFET-OP) as virtual hostages in Ermera for several hours before their negotiated release. In Ainaro, militia members kidnapped two UNAMET staff people. In Oecussi, unprecedented widespread militia activity has forced many to leave or go into hiding. Although IFET-OP continues to gather information about escalating violence, we share the concern of many East Timorese that the situation could get much bloodier in a very short time.

Over the last 24 hours, a pattern of militia attacks against East Timorese working for UNAMET has emerged. It was these local staff, with tremendous bravery and competence, who made yesterdays voting possible. The United Nations owes them a great debt — and is further obligated to take immediate effective measures to protect them from retaliation. Even if the Indonesian government is not yet willing to admit armed UN peacekeepers to restore peace or prevent bloodshed for the East Timorese population, it has no excuse for preventing the UN from protecting its own workers.

After the wave of killings late last week, strong reaction from the international community stemmed the tide of violence to make yesterdays balloting possible. IFET-OP is concerned that this pressure will wane as visiting ambassadors, parliamentarians, observers and journalists leave East Timor. IFET-OP observers will remain in East Timor for a few more weeks, but our international volunteers cannot sustain a permanent presence here.

Although UNAMET will maintain and expand its presence in East Timor over the next few weeks, their unarmed presence has already proven inadequate to prevent violence in East Timor, or even to protect their staff. The May 5 agreements assign responsibility for security to the Indonesian police, who have shown themselves unwilling or unable to fulfill that responsibility. Only the intense spotlight on yesterdays balloting, combined with international pressure, was able to attain a fragile, temporary peace.

If that peace continues to deteriorate, it will be a result of the short attention span of the international community and its failure to confront Indonesias illegal military presence in East Timor. The international community can prevent further bloodshed by expanding UNAMETs mandate and giving the East Timorese people the security they deserve.

********************************************************** International Federation for East Timor Observer Project Dili, East Timor tel. 62-390-321969 (Sabine Hammer, Russel Anderson) fax 62-390-321264

IFET Member Organizations as of 1 June 1999

National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT, East Timor) East Timor International Support Center (Australia) East Timor Relief Association (Australia) Australia-East Timor Association Australians for a Free East Timor Friends of East Timor, Western Australia Hobart East Timor Committee (Australia) East Timor Alert Network (Canada) Canadian Action for Indonesia and East Timor Pacific Concerns Resource Centre (Fiji) Agir Pour Timor (France) Association Solidarité Timor-Oriental (France) Watch Indonesia! (Germany) Gesellschaft fur Bedrohte Völker (Germany) East Timor Roundtable (Hong Kong) East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign Indian Society for Human Rights Free East Timor – Japan Coalition East Timor Information Network (Malaysia) International Platform of Jurists for East Timor (Netherlands) Norwegian Cooperation Council for East Timor and Indonesia Asia-Pacific Coalition on East Timor (Philippines) Com. para os Direitos do Povo Maubere (Portugal) Paz é Justica para Timor Leste (Portugal) A Paz é Possivel em Timor Leste (Portugal) Movimento Christão para a Paz (Portugal) Instituto de Estudios Políticos para América Latina y Africa (Spain) Östtimor Kommitten (Sweden) TAPOL (U.K.) British Coalition for East Timor East Timor Action Network (USA) International Secretariat, Parliamentarians for East Timor (list in formation)

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