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Transcript Of Press Conf. After Timor Poll Closes

Transcript Of Press Briefing By Carina Perelli, Chief Of The Electoral Assistance Division At Un Hqs And David Wimhurst, UNAMET Spokesman

Tuesday, 31 August 1999

David Wimhurst:

Good morning. We have results of yesterday's ballot in terms of the number of votes cast and the percentage voter turnout. This is provisional in the sense that the final count will not be known until actually every single ballot paper has been counted in the counting house. I am going to hand over now to Carina Perelli who is the chief of the electoral assistance division at United Nations headquarters. She will explain to you these results.

Carina Perelli:

I want to reinforce that before releasing the figures that these are provisional figures because the final figures will only be available when we finish reconciliation. Of the 200 reports that we should have received by now we have received 193 of them. Because statistically the centres for which we have not received reports are not significant we feel comfortable releasing them.

Having said this the total voter turnout is 98.6 per cent. This result represents the number from 193 reports received plus the compensation of the data missing from seven centres that we have received and which is not statistically significant. Until final reconciliation this is the provisional official number. We can therefore see there has been a massive turnout of voters to the polls. If there is something that these numbers show that is that the main (inaudible) of any election is the police, when they believe in the process.

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Results have been consistent in all the regions, going from 98.8 per cent of voters in places like Dili, to 97 per cent in places like Oekussi. It is therefore a massive turnout that shows that neither fear nor violence nor intimidation can stop the people when they want to have their voice heard. Having lived throughout the transitional elections this is also consistent with universal patterns in this matter.

I want to use this opportunity to congratulate all the staff of UNAMET, but particularly the electoral component of UNAMET who have showed the same quiet determination and dignity as the voter in carrying out their tasks. This is what explains why 432,287 votes have been cast in East Timor yesterday. I repeat the total number of votes cast was 432,287.

I want to also, by this means to offer my condolences to the family of the local staff member who was killed yesterday and who paid with his life for this turnout. His name was Joao Lopes Gomes and he was 49.

David Wimhurst: Thank you very much Carina. I would just like to re-emphasize something Carina said that the massive voter turnout is absolute proof that the campaign of intimidation, violence and threats that attempted to destabilize this popular consultation was a complete failure.

It could not work, it did not work and it will not work. Knowing this now to be true, it is imperative that everybody lay down their arms and cease all violent activity as it is completely futile and instead focus their energies on the long process of reconciliation that is now necessary. With this in mind, I would like to announce that this afternoon at 3:00 p.m. at UNAMET headquarters the first meeting of the East Timorese Consultative Commission will take place. The Commission will consist of 25 people, ten named by the pro-autonomy side, ten named by the CNRT (pro-independence group) and five appointed by the Secretary-General. One of the primary tasks of this committee is precisely to work for reconciliation.

Now that the people have expressed themselves so massively, and even if we do not know what the result of that expression is, the time has come for reconciliation truly to begin. We expect that following this afternoon's meeting there will be a statement released by this Commission and we have scheduled a meeting here at 4:30 p.m. where that statement can be made. I invite you all to be present here at 4:30 p.m.

Secondly, I would like to remind you that the ballot boxes are now being brought into Dili. They will be taken to the counting house, which is the museum next to the central police station. Many of you have requested pictures or video of this operation and once this press briefing is over I will have some of my staff present at that location and they will be able to escort you in to see the ballot boxes being brought into the counting house.

Question & Answer:

Q. How was the local staff member killed in Atsabe?

DW: Following the closing of the poll yesterday in Atsabe (southern part of Ermera regency), Mr. Gomes and other UNAMET local staff had left the polling office. It has been reported that militia were present who fired automatic weapons. The gunfire was into the ground and during this Mr. Gomes was stabbed and his lung was punctured. He died between an hour and two hours later. As soon as we have news of funeral arrangements we will communicate that to you. In the meantime, an investigative committee from UNAMET is flying down to Atsabe today to examine exactly the detail surrounding this murder. We will be able to report back to you when that investigation is completed.

Q. Does this turnout mean that the refugee problem was no problem?

CP: What the results show is that yesterday what was defeated here was fear and violence. What we saw in the IDP problem, of course it is a problem. It was a problem for the people, but we saw consistently all over the region as where displaced people were present was that the people left their homes, towns and villages to seek refuge in the mountains because they were afraid, but they came back to vote. We saw that in Viqueque, where they came in groups ready to defend themselves for the right to vote.
We saw it in Maliana, which was a ghost town until the polling day, and then people came back and voted. We saw it consistently everywhere where there were displaced people. They came back and then they left again. Of course it is a humanitarian problem, but it was not a problem for their determination to vote. Some of the displaced people were not able to exercise their right but we saw them yesterday here in Dili and even this morning at UNAMET headquarters people coming from Los Palos came to us and said "I couldn't vote, can I vote, I want to vote".

Q: What is the immediate future for the UNVs?

CP: In the immediate future what the UN is doing is several things. We are going to replace a part of the UNVs who came here just because they had the electoral skills to conduct the election and we are going to replace them with other staff who have different skills for the new phases. One hundred of them are going to be staying behind and you will see them at the counting centre doing the counting. After the results are announced, 80 of them are going to stay here to complement the staff so that we can transmit the knowledge we have gained from this experience.

Q. Do you have any information about what happened in Dili port last night?

DW: We know that shots were fired in the port area last night, or early this morning. Once again, this appears to be the work of some militia. It lasted for a short period, but beyond that I don't have any details. There were no reported injuries.

Q. How many local staff have received death threats and what measures have been taken by UNAMET to protect them?

DW: I cannot give you an exact number of local staff who have received death threats, but many of them have. The protection of all East Timorese citizens is the responsibilty of the Indonesian police. We employed some 4,000 local staff for this phase of the popular consultation. We salute their bravery and courage in working for us and facing these threats and intimidation. Now that this phase is over they will be returning to their places of origin. Although we will be keeping a considerable number at UNAMET headquarters, we have about 900 in the Dili region. Their protection is in the hands of the Indonesian police.

Q. (from Bahasa Indonesia) What is UNAMET's attitude regarding the reports or claims by the pro-autonomy party that UNAMET's local staff were partial and violated the agreement during the process of the popular consultation?

DW: I presume you are referring to complaints yesterday that some of our staff were said to be influencing the way people voted. Under the regulations governing this popular consultation our staff are obliged to respond to requests for help from voters who are in some way disabled or who asked for help in making their mark on the ballot paper. As far as we know, all of our staff involved in that process acted correctly and assisted those who requested such assistance. I suspect that this unfounded allegation is a misperception and a misunderstanding of the role that the staff had in response to such requests for assistance.

CP: Both the Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Jeff Fischer, and myself, traveled to the locations where such allegations were being made. In all cases we had the same line which was that there is an electoral commission and if there is a complaint it should be channeled to them through the regular procedures. However, in many of the cases on the spot there was no way of substantiating that claim.
There was a misunderstanding of the rule of providing assistance to those voters that are blind or disabled or too elderly to be able to vote by themselves. That is a standard procedure in most of the electoral codes in the world and was made public with sufficient time for it to be objected to if there was a problem with the procedure. At the UN, following the principles of the Charter we assume people are innocent until proven guilty. That is why we established an electoral commission that is a court of law. Therefore we don't accept complaints that are not signed. Having lived myself in Latin America through a process where they accepted complaints that were not signed, this is a principle in which I do not budge.

Q. Was Mr. Gomes, who was killed in Atsabe, in any way linked to a complaint about an allegation that UNAMET local staff had influenced voters?

CP: Not to my knowledge.

Q: Does UNAMET expect to start the counting of ballots today?

CP: I don't expect it to start today. I don't expect reconciliation to be completed by today because it involves a rather complex exercise also in logistics because we have to receive all the ballot boxes. It is a rather tedious procedure.

Q: How will you ensure the counting results are not leaked?

CP: It is rather important. We are working on that right now. There are two things that are important, one is that the results are not released very quickly, but particularly that no false results are released. You know that normally, the fact that you are at the count and you see the first part of the count doesn't mean that the tendency is going to stay, particularly since we are mixing the ballots.
Therefore, nobody is going to be able to say that the vote is going one way or the other just because you see the first ballots being counted. We are monitoring very closely the situation and putting procedures into place. On the one hand, we need to be as transparent as possible so that we are not accused of playing with the results, on the other hand we have to stop the campaign of rumors and early disclosures that could cause unnecessary fallbacks.

Q: (inaudible)

CP: We will be pleased to give you the numbers in writing because I don't have the numbers here. The people who were not allowed to vote because they are displaced and couldn't return to their communities, we are just taking their names so that there is record. If they want to petition the commission or just want to go on record that they were impeded to vote and present a complaint. But, they will not be able to vote, the polls have been closed and there are no exceptions to that rule.

Q: (inaudible)

DW: No, I have not received any such reports since yesterday.

Q: How much were local workers like Mr. Gomes paid for their work and was his family given death disability payment by the UN? DW: I am afraid I cannot give you details of salaries. We have a salary range. I don't know what he was paid. I will inform you as to the second part of your question as soon as I can get some information.

Q: ...(inaudible)...and why are all UNAMET local staff members of CNRT?

DW: The polling stations all opened at 6:30 a.m. in East Timor and this was substantially announced ahead of time and everybody seems to have understood that. However, the polling stations in the five cities in Indonesia, where external polling took place, opened at 9:00 a.m. and stayed open until 6:00 p.m. This was announced on television from Jakarta and I can only surmise that people watching that misunderstood that this time announced for Indonesia also applied to East Timor.

As to the second part of your question, the staff who we have hired across East Timor have not been asked by UNAMET for their political affiliation. We have said repeatedly that anybody can work for UNAMET provided they keep their political opinions in their pocket.

Q: What security provisions were in place in Atsabe yesterday?

DW: The same security arrangements that apply everywhere. In each polling centre there is one civilian police officer whose job it is to ensure the security of the ballot. It is also secured by the Indonesian police. The security of all local staff everywhere is a matter for the Indonesian police.

Q: Does UNAMET have any plans or campaign to influence Indonesian police in helping people return to their places of origin?

DW: Our Civilian Police continue to advise the Indonesian police and if there are large movements of internally displaced people who request assistance in returning to their places of origin. UNAMET will then work with the Indonesian police to try and ensure that they provide adequate protection for those movements.

Q: (inaudible)

DW: All polling stations in Oekussi were open yesterday.

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