(Background: Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and The Carter Center are closely monitoring the popular consultation process on autonomy in East Timor. Ten Carter Center observers have been traveling throughout East Timor since July 4 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 sixth in a series of weekly reports to be issued by The Carter Center observer mission before and after the consultation.)
The first full week in the campaign phase of the East Timor Popular Consultation was completed but marred by escalating violence, especially in the western districts. While there were some positive signs that the Indonesian police had begun to establish security, there also were accounts of violence that again implicated the Indonesian military in support of pro-integration militia forces. This ongoing violence is particularly troubling as the campaign phase, which began August 14, has less than one week remaining ahead of the August 30 vote.
The Campaign Process:
In many areas, pro-integration and pro-independence organizations were working closely with UNAMET to address potential obstacles in the campaign process. For instance, in Ermera, pro-integration and pro-independence leaders have signed a memorandum of reconciliation in which they promise to conduct a safe, orderly campaign. Although many of the campaign rallies have run smoothly in some districts, militia attacks and intimidation keep many citizens from participating in others. Carter Center observers in several districts have collected evidence that pro-integration militias have threatened and assaulted those who have participated in pro-independence rallies.
Over the last week, pro-integration rallies held parades and convoys throughout East Timor. Pro-integration stickers, posters, and banners have been placed on vehicles and public spaces. Some pro-integration organizations distribute rice and building materials to villages as part of their campaign strategy to win support from the rural Timorese poor. In many areas, pro-integration organizations such as the East Timor Popular Front (BRTT), the Unified Forum for Justice and Democracy, (FPDK), and Pasukan Pejuang Integrasi (PPI), have organized under the party umbrella, UNIF.
CNRT, the political arm of the pro-independence resistance, has opened several new offices, including those in Los Palos, Baucau, and Covalima. Efforts by CNRT to open offices in other districts continue to be met with resistance. In Bobonaro, the district government continues to refuse the establishment of a CNRT branch in that district. After the disturbances in Maliana on August 18, part of the CNRT leadership in Bobonaro has sought refuge in the district police headquarters. Existing CNRT offices and the offices of student groups which have common pro-independence aims have been attacked in several areas during the past week.
On August 19, the CNRT office in Manatuto was attacked by pro-integration militias. In Suai, the day after the CNRT held a large procession on August 18, militia members threw a hand grenade (which did not explode), attacked internally displaced persons (IDPs) and upset market stands, church officials told a Center observer.
There were some signs that the Indonesian police (POLRI) have begun to assert the authority for establishing security that the May 5 New York Agreements assign to them. In village Libaloa, Liquica district, for example, police established a post that enabled a group of IDPs to return to their homes. Further, in Bobonaro on August 19, police reportedly attempted to intervene when pro-integration supporters attacked a student office. Nonetheless, police responded tardily or remained passive in several instances.
In Suai, for example, police only intervened after pro-integration militias had destroyed market property, damaged an UNAMET vehicle, beaten IDPs, wrecked a church office, and the Church priest and nuns physically put themselves between the attackers and the IDPs.
Physical Attacks and Intimidation:
Militia-led attacks and intimidation continued in some districts escalated this week, most noticeably in Bobonaro and Suai. An August 18 militia attack on student groups in Bobonaro district left several injured. Center observers also interviewed two men who were beaten by Dadurus Merah Putih (DMP) militia members on the day before the attack. On August 19 in Suai armed Laksaur and Mahidi militias attacked a group of 2,400 IDPs gathered on church grounds.
Accounts of violence once again implicated the Indonesian military (TNI) in the support of militia activity. Apparent attempts to intimidate UNAMET foreign and local staff continued in Bobonaro and Suai and in some cases became more violent. There were first time reports of attacks against UNAMET staff this week in Lautem. Carter Center observers found no evidence to substantiate pro-integration allegations of attacks and intimidation by the pro-independence CNRT and student organizations.
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs):
The plight of IDPs continued to worsen in some places. In Viqueque, UNAMET officials reported that 1200-1500 people were still in Ossu or the surrounding mountains. Dewan Solidaritas Mahasiswa students reported that food and medicine were critically low for the 50-80 persons whom they had registered. In Suai, the numbers of those sheltering at the Catholic church increased substantially for the second consecutive week, to about 2,500.
Following the disturbances of August 19, the leader of the Laksaur militia, who is a government official, forcibly stopped the supply of water to the IDPs, whose condition became even more critical. The district chief, UNAMET sources report, would not give permission for the planned relief convoy on August 20. A delegation of U.S. Senators Harkin and Reed and Congressman James McGovern went to Suai on August 21, talked with the refugees and discussed their conditions with local officials. As of August 22, the water supply has been resumed.
The number of consultation process observer groups, both domestic and foreign, continued to build, with some 2,000 have been accredited by UNAMET to date. A spokesman for the pro-integration organization, FPDK, said he planned to bring in 400 persons from outside East Timor, but UNAMET says no action was taken to seek accreditation. Still, 23 new groups, who will be coordinated by the Indonesian Government's East Timor Task Force, are expected to arrive soon.
On August 20, Falintil held simultaneous ceremonies in its three cantonments to celebrate its 24th anniversary. The celebration went smoothly, without violent incident, and attracted thousands of supporters. Many pro-independence supporters also explained that these celebrations conveniently drew thousands of youths from the towns, thereby minimizing contact between opposing parties and decreasing likelihood of clashes during the campaign period.
Falintil's non-confrontational posture remains unchanged. While the pro-integration side told us that Falintil members were responsible for provoking attacks in Bobonaro, Suai, and Viqueque. Carter Center observers who were in these areas during of after the incidents, however, found no credible evidence to support these accusations. At the Region 2/3, however, Carter Center observers saw about 150 Falintil members armed with modern rifles and others using two-way radios (both are illegal in Indonesia).
Post-ballot arrangements as provided by the May 5 Agreements are assuming more importance. A political leader reported that a meeting was planned in Jakarta among Timorese political leaders, GOI officials, and UNAMET on August 22 that is expected to lead toward establishment of an advisory commission. The Agreements call for an advisory council to be named after the ballot and before the result is announced. Political leaders report also their increased communications with members of opposing parties, militias, and Falintil.
This report is based on field visits to Covalima, Ainaro, Bobonaro, Ermera, Liquica, Manatuto, Baucau, Viqueque, and Dili districts, and on meetings with Indonesian civil, military and police officials, East Timorese pro-integration (favoring continued links with Indonesia) and pro-independence political leaders and supporters, militia members, Falintil representatives, UNAMET officials, representatives of Timorese and international non-governmental organizations, diplomats and journalists.