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Sunday, August 15, 1999 Published at 13:13 GMT 14:13 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Timor rally attracts thousands

Independence supporters turned out in force for the cermony

East Timor
Thousands of East Timorese have gathered to mark the start of their campaign for independence ahead of the vote on the future of the troubled territory.

During the ceremony the separatist flag, bearing the crossed-swords emblem of resistance fighters, was raised legally for the first time since Indonesia annexed the former Portuguese colony in 1976.

The ballot, to be held on 30 August, will allow East Timorese to choose between autonomy within Indonesia or full independence.

[ image: The pro-Jakarta camp: Promising a peaceful campaign]
The pro-Jakarta camp: Promising a peaceful campaign
The two-week campaigning period was officially launched on Saturday by the United Nations mission supervising the referendum.

In a recorded speech, jailed independence leader Jose Alexandre Xanana Gusmao urged supporters on Sunday to show respect for other East Timorese who want to stay in Indonesia.

"For the past 24 years our enemy have not been the East Timorese people who want integration with Indonesia. Our main enemy has been the Indonesian military," he added.

Mr Gusmao, who is still under house arrest in Jakarta, said Indonesia's armed forces, particularly their top commanders, bore responsibility for atrocities committed in the province.

[ image: Mr Gusmao: Banned from East Timor during campaigning]
Mr Gusmao: Banned from East Timor during campaigning
Nearly 5,000 people attended the independence event in the capital Dili which marked the opening of the office of the National Council for Timorese Resistance (CNRT).

Onlookers held a minute's silence for the 200,000 Timorese who have died from war, famine or disease under Jakarta's often harsh rule.

Mr Gusmao, who was arrested in 1992 for leading armed resistance to Indonesian rule, has been barred from travelling to the territory for the campaign.

Pro-Jakarta rally

The independence ceremony followed a rally on Saturday organised by rival pro-Jakarta activists.

[ image: About 450,000 have registered to vote on 30 August]
About 450,000 have registered to vote on 30 August
Around 600 anti-independence supporters, many wearing small Indonesian flags around their heads and T-shirts printed with "Autonomy, Yes", sang songs of support for Indonesia.

UN officials said the good behaviour of the crowd boded well for a peaceful campaign.

The territory has been rocked by violence in recent months, much of it blamed on anti-independence militias, allegedly formed with the support of Indonesia's military.

Pro-independence leaders have said they will not hold formal rallies because of security fears. Instead, they will take their message door to door.

Indonesia occupied the former Portuguese colony in 1975, in a move that was never recognised by the UN.

Last January Indonesia said it would be willing to let East Timor break away if most people rejected its autonomy package.

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