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East Timor, NZ MPs & Indonesia Prepare For Ballot

East Timor, NZ MPs And Indonesia Prepare For Ballot

The United Nations says it has almost completed registering voters in East Timor for the August 30 ballot on East Timor. Meanwhile NZ MPs are readying to leave to observe, as Indonesia predicts chaos if the province votes for independence.

The vote is being organized by the United Nations under an agreement signed in May 5 by Indonesia and East Timor's former colonial ruler, Portugal. The ballot has been delayed a number of times due to violence in the province that was forcibly annexed by Indonesia in 1976.

A spokesperson for the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Don McKinnon said the observer team was planning to leave for East Timor about a week before the ballot date. The delegation comprises Phil Goff (Labour), Matt Robson (Alliance), Ken Shirley (ACT) and Rana Waitai (Mauri Pacific) and will be led by Roger Maxwell (National).

Currently there are 10 New Zealand police officers in the province working under UN auspices. They were due to come home at the end of this month, but their contracts are to be adjusted to take into account the delay of the ballot.

With only a few days left for voter registration, the UN Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) said that as of the end of July, more than 378,000 of the estimated 400,000 eligible voters have registered to vote on the autonomy proposal.

Spokesperson David Wimhurst told a press briefing in Dili that while the figures were preliminary, they were encouraging. "We are on target with the numbers," he said. "The upward curve has now tapered off and is now dropping, which means that most people have registered."

In response to a reporter's question, Mr. Wimhurst said that all registration centres are open and that some of them are staffed with additional personnel to handle internally displaced persons (IDPs) who are coming in to register. He said UNAMET had reinforced certain centres in anticipation of where many of the estimated 40,000 to 60,000 IDPs were expected to turn up.

New Zealand's observers will be formally accredited by the Electoral Commission in East Timor and will report back on return to New Zealand and share its findings with the Electoral Commission in East Timor.

"Conditions on the ground will be tough as East Timor's resources are already stretched by the large UN presence and observers will have to be fairly self-reliant."

There have been a number of violent incidents in the run up to the vote. The Indonesian Government has also been preparing for what they are predicting will be a vote in favour of independence.

A leaked internal Government report, which experts say appears to be genuine has predicted violence if independence forces win and also anticipated that non-Timorese who control many businesses would leave.

Many in Indonesia fear that a move to autonomy will increase pressure on the huge and divided nation which encompasses a wide range of ethnic and religious groups. The internal pressures have erupted in violence in a number of areas throughout Indonesia and unity is one of the key issues facing the incoming Government, if it ever manages to form.

The leaked document dated July 3 and signed by the coordinating minister for politics and security/internal political affairs says it fears that time is running out to turn around East Timorese opinion and says the option of remaining part of Indonesia with some autonomy looks likely to be defeated.

East Timorese are being asked to choose between broad autonomy within Indonesia, Option 1, or outright independence, Option 2.

The document praises pro-Indonesian militias, believed responsible internationally for bloody political violence this year in East Timor, and says they "are heroes of integration."

It accused the United Nations of bias toward independence and added that Indonesian authorities in East Timor had been "powerless to match" manoeuvres by UN officials in East Timor, supported by local personnel opposed to remaining within Indonesia.

If voters reject the proposal to remain with Indonesia, the report lists a five-point summary of recommendations that includes a plan to remove Indonesian civil servants and migrants and recommends that all elements of the Indonesian armed forces be put on alert and prepared for action near the evacuation areas.

West Timor "must be made ready to receive huge numbers of refugees and their security forces", it says. "The evacuation routes must be planned and secured, possibly destroying facilities and other vital objects."

It also predicts a violent and bloody payback by pro-independence fighters if they win.

"The Indonesian government will perhaps feel relieved of a heavy burden of responsibility for the prolonged and seemingly unsolvable problem of East Timor, which has only besmirched the nation's image in the eyes of the international community. However, the pro-integration forces are prepared to take up the present position of the anti-integration forces. In such a case, the Indonesian government will not be able to wash its hands of the problem, if later the integration supporters are butchered."

A victory for independence would severely disrupt the economic and social structure of East Timor, the report says, adding: "It is inevitable that society will be disrupted. The economy will be paralysed, as the business people are generally migrants." It says pro-independence groups are not capable of governing East Timor and predicts "At best, aspects of society will be controlled by the church," while the United Nations and Australia will control the rest.

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