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Friday, May 7, 1999 Published at 07:34 GMT 08:34 UK

Analysis: East Timor decides its future

East Timorese are expected to vote for independence

By Asia Analyst Rob Gifford

Indonesia and Portugal signed a landmark agreement on 5 May giving the people of East Timor the chance to vote on whether to remain a part of Indonesia. It is a referendum in all but name, but how will it work on the ground?

Under the agreement signed at the United Nations, Timorese in Timor and abroad will be asked: "Do you accept the proposed special autonomy for East Timor within the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia?" or "Do you reject the proposed special autonomy for East Timor, leading to East Timor's separation from Indonesia?"

An acceptance, or "yes" vote will mean recognising and continuing ties with Indonesia.

The central government in Jakarta would retain responsibility for defence, and keep troops in East Timor, as well as continuing to be responsible for monetary and fiscal policies, but would offer Dili possible "cooperative or joint undertakings" in the key sector of oil exploration.

A rejection or "no" vote will mean that East Timor will be allowed to cecede from Indonesia.

UN's role

As for UN involvement on the ground in East Timor, Timorese leaders such as Xanana Gusmao wanted a full UN peacekeeping force but Jakarta turned this down.

[ image: Xanana Gusmao wanted a full UN peacekeeping force in East Timor]
Xanana Gusmao wanted a full UN peacekeeping force in East Timor
In the end, it was decided that the ballot will be monitored by a UN mission of roughly 600 people. A very small UN team has already arrived, and about 20-30 more UN personnel are expected by mid May.

The UN mission will include civilian police - drawn from Australia, the UK, Germany, Japan, the Philippines and the US - who are described as advisers to the Indonesian police, and are likely to be unarmed (although again Timorese leaders are pushing for them to be armed.)

There are approximately 800,000 people in East Timor, of whom 600,000 are eligible to vote. Most analysts predict that the majority of them will vote for independence, even though there are some doubts as to whether East Timor can survive as a sovereign state.

Portugal has played an important role in the last stages of negotiations.

Portuguese Foreign Minister Jaime Gama handed over a cheque for $10m to help finance the UN mission. Australia is also playing a major role economically by providing $13m - half in cash and half in logistical support - towards the estimated $30m total needed.

Initimidation fears

There has been some concern that not holding the referendum until August will give pro-integration militias months to mount a campaign of intimidation.

The original date, 8 August, was also put back to the 22 August because of security concerns and logistical problems.

[ image: Many fear pro-integration militias will cause havoc as the vote approaches]
Many fear pro-integration militias will cause havoc as the vote approaches
In April, violence escalated badly with pro-independence and pro-integration militias fighting and going on the rampage, until a tentative peace pledge was signed on 21 April.

A clause in the agreement signed on 5 May, says that Jakarta is responsible for ensuring that voting is held "in an atmosphere free of intimidation, violence or interference from any side".

There are currently 20,000 military and police in East Timor, and there are fears that they may not be willing to relinquish their control of the territory.

There is also a lot of water to go under the bridge in the rest of Indonesia before then, with the whole country going to a general election on 7 June.

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