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Anti-Independence Militias In East Timor Allege Rigged Vote

By David Lamb

A day after East Timor staged a historic and largely peaceful election, anti-independence militias reappeared in scattered areas of the province Tuesday, and their spokesman accused the United Nations of rigging the vote.

Members of Aitarak, the main anti-independence militia, blocked a convoy carrying 150 local and foreign U.N. personnel in the tiny mountain town of Gleno, about 30 miles southwest of here. The standoff ended after negotiations led by U.N. officials who reached the area by helicopter, and the convoy continued on to Dili.

Australian election observers said three Indonesian U.N. personnel were killed in the Ermera district around Gleno on Tuesday. U.N. spokesman David Wimhurst said he was unable to confirm the deaths. He added that all the ballot boxes from the election had reached Dili safely and counting would begin Wednesday.

The people of East Timor, a former Portuguese colony invaded by Indonesia in 1975 and annexed the next year, were asked in the U.N.-supervised election Monday whether they wanted independence or continued association with Indonesia that would include wide-ranging autonomy. The results are expected to be announced next week.

The election was largely peaceful, as militias kept their promise to lay low and not interfere with voting.

The size of the voter turnout stunned even U.N. officials, who announced Tuesday that 98.6 percent of East Timor’s more than 430,000 registered voters cast ballots.

Political analysts said the high turnout probably will favor the pro-independence side, which had been subjected to a campaign of intimidation by anti-independence militias hoping to influence the outcome. Many voters ignored death threats and walked miles to reach polling stations.

“This is absolute proof that the campaign of violence, threats, intimidation and attempts to destabilize the election process were a complete failure,” Wimhurst said.

President Clinton, who is vacationing this week in Skaneateles, N.Y., was pleased by the high turnout and the “relative lack of violence” in East Timor, Jake Siewert, deputy White House press secretary, said Tuesday.

Most analysts believe voters overwhelmingly approved independence. Although both sides have pledged to abide by the people’s wishes, it remained unclear if the militias favoring autonomy under Indonesian rule were really prepared to end the civil war that has dragged on for 24 years.

Basilio Diaz Araujo, the Australian-educated spokesman for the pro-autonomy United Front for Autonomy, issued a statement in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, calling the election “garbage” and accusing the United Nations of favoring independence forces. Some of his colleagues have said there is a world conspiracy against anti-independence forces.

The world community applauded both the election turnout and the fact that the poll was held under largely peaceful conditions. Many countries have threatened Indonesia with political and economic consequences if the Jakarta government fails to provide sufficient security to ensure that the voters’ wishes are carried out.

Indonesian President B.J. Habibie made an 11th-hour appeal on election eve to East Timor’s 800,000 people, asking them to opt for continued association with his nation. But Indonesia has such a shameful human rights record in East Timor and has failed to fulfill so many promises that his plea may have fallen on deaf ears.

Western diplomats are openly critical of Indonesia’s inability or unwillingness to control its military and police in East Timor and insist those forces remain neutral and protect the citizenry. Both forces have made little secret of their support for the anti-independence movement whose unruly militias are trained and paid by the military.