Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and The Carter Center are closely monitoring the public consultation process on autonomy in East Timor. The Carter Center opened an office in Dili on July 4. An additional eight observers have now joined the team and have begun traveling throughout East Timor to assess preparations for the vote, the security environment, and the fairness of the campaign, while remaining strictly neutral and nonpartisan. The following is the third in a series of weekly reports to be issued by The Carter Center observer mission before and after the consultation.)
Dili, East Timor...Turnout for voter registration remains strong as the end of the registration period approaches. The people of East Timor have shown great enthusiasm for participation in the consultation process with a large proportion of the eligible voters having already registered. Carter Center observers have noted an encouraging improvement in the security situation in some areas and the Indonesian police seem to be taking positive steps to create a peaceful climate for the campaign period and ballot day. However, many concerns remain, including ongoing harassment and intimidation of potential voters in many areas, the continued existence of tens of thousands of internally displaced persons and threats of widespread violence after the vote.
The Center is particularly concerned by clear evidence collected by its observers of Indonesian military and government support of armed pro-integration groups and continued involvement in pro-integration campaigning in violation of the New York agreements that govern the consultation process. There has also been a marked deterioration in the security situation in Dili over the past week, including at least two reported killings by pro-integration militias. In one incident, members of the Aitarak militia fired automatic weapons within a few hundred meters of the Carter Center office.
This report is based on field visits to Manatuto, Liquica, Ermera, Aileu and Dili districts during the past week, and on meetings in Dili with Indonesian government, military, and police officials; members of the Indonesian Government Task Force for the Implementation of the Popular Consultation; the Commission for Peace and Stability; Timorese non-governmental organizations; UNAMET officials; representatives of international organizations; diplomats; and members of pro-autonomy groups (which favor integration into Indonesia) and pro-independence groups.
- Voter Registration: The Carter Center is encouraged by the strong turnout for voter registration to date. UNAMET reports that more than half of the estimated population of eligible voters had registered by the tenth day of the registration exercise, and turnout continues to be strong at many registration centers visited by Carter Center observers. The use of UNAMET Affidavit of Birth forms seems to have ensured that those who do not have the required identification are still able to register. UNAMET has also taken steps to ensure that internally displaced persons (IDPs) are able to register and vote. Because eligible voters must vote at the same location where they have registered, the identification, and registration, of IDPs and voting by IDPs still represents a significant challenge. Much needs to be done to ensure that IDPs are able to fully and freely participate in the consultation.
- The Role of UNAMET: The presence of UNAMET personnel continues to have a positive impact on the security situation in many parts of East Timor, and most potential voters interviewed by Carter Center observers express satisfaction with the performance of District Electoral Officers (DEOs) and UN Civilian Police. UNAMET has also taken a number of steps to ensure that overcrowding at some registration centers does not prevent potential voters from registering. However, the Center is still concerned that not enough has been done to ensure that the people of East Timor clearly understand all phases of the consultation process. Many registrants expressed surprise and concern when informed that the voter list will be publicly displayed prior to the vote, and few understand that most DEOs will be withdrawn from voting centers immediately after the vote.
- The Role of the Police: The Carter Center is encouraged by steps taken by the Indonesian police to increase their presence in East Timor and to assume responsibility for creating a peaceful and orderly pre-consultation environment. The police continue to provide good security for UNAMET activities and to cooperate fully with UNAMET personnel in most districts. However, most police personnel appear to remain close to their bases or to UNAMET offices, and few seem to have been deployed to less accessible areas. Carter Center observers have collected evidence of police officers collaborating with pro-integration groups and many incidents of politically-motivated violence or intimidation remain uninvestigated. The Security Agreement calls for the Indonesian police to maintain law and order throughout East Timor, not just to provide security for UNAMET personnel.
- The Role of the Military and Local Government: Indonesian government officials have informed The Carter Center that the Indonesian military (TNI) has withdrawn a number of troops from East Timor, but there is no evidence that the military has followed through on public commitments to re-deploy and confine the remaining soldiers to their barracks. First-hand observation in a number of different districts has confirmed that the TNI is still widely dispersed throughout East Timor and there is a permanent TNI presence in many villages and towns. Carter Center observers have compiled additional evidence of TNI support for and cooperation with armed pro-integration groups, as well as close cooperation between pro-integration groups and local government officials.
TNI soldiers and officers, leaders of armed pro-integration groups and local government officials in a number of districts have told Carter Center observers that they are working together to provide security and to "socialize" the autonomy plan. Many residents in these areas have said that the pro-integration groups supported and directed by the military and local government are militias, and that militia members routinely harass and intimidate the local population.
The May 5 agreements that govern the popular consultation assign sole responsibility for maintaining law and order to the police, call for the strict neutrality of the military, forbid the use of government resources for campaign activities and do not allow campaigning for either option before the official campaign period.
- Harassment and Intimidation: Local residents in all districts visited by Carter Center observers complain of persistent harassment and intimidation. The Center has received a few reports of pro-independence groups perpetrating violent acts or intimidating potential voters, but Indonesian government and military leaders have confirmed that FALINTIL is respecting the cease-fire and does not represent an immediate threat to the TNI or the people of East Timor. Primary responsibility for the creation of a general climate of fear and intimidation in East Timor rests with pro-integration militias.
While the overall security situation has improved in some areas, Carter Center observers have collected much evidence that intimidation tactics in many parts of East Timor have simply become more subtle and difficult to detect. Militia groups now maintain a lower profile, operate primarily at night and concentrate their activities in less accessible areas, but their threats and messages of intimidation remain largely unchanged.
- Internally Displaced Persons: Poor security conditions continue to prevent tens of thousands of IDPs from returning to their homes. Estimates of the number of IDPs in East Timor range from more than 35,000 by the UNHCR to more than 60,000 by church-based organizations. The Carter Center is encouraged by the fact that both the Indonesian government and UNAMET recognize the seriousness of the IDP problem, and by reports from at least one international humanitarian organization that some IDPs have started to return home. However, Carter Center observers have failed to find evidence of large numbers of IDPs returning to their homes, and have received credible reports of several hundred new IDPs arriving in Ermera district from Liquica and Bobonaro over the past week.
UNAMET regulations state that all voters must cast their ballots at the station at which they register. It is essential that steps are taken to ensure that all IDPs are able to participate freely in the consultation process and to vote, regardless of whether or not they return to their homes prior to polling day. The Indonesian police also have a responsibility to ensure that no others are driven from their homes by intimidation or violence.
- Security Concerns for Later Stages of the Consultation: Supporters of both independence and autonomy have told Carter Center observers that they fear an increase in violence during the campaign period and after the vote. Some pro-integration militia members have told Carter Center observers that they will engage in violent acts if the autonomy option is rejected. At the same time, non-Timorese civil servants and transmigrants have begun sending their families outside East Timor for fear of retribution from independence supporters.
The Security Agreement stipulates that the Indonesian police are responsible for maintaining law and order in East Timor before and after the consultation. Positive steps by the Indonesian police to prevent violence and intimidation during the campaign period and specific public commitments to remain after the vote by both the police and UNAMET might reassure the people of East Timor that the post-consultation period will be peaceful.