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Wednesday, July 28, 1999 Published at 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Timor vote delayed again

About half of the East Timorese electorate has been registered

East Timor's historic referendum on self-rule has been delayed for a second time.

East Timor
Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said he had been told by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan that the vote would now be held on 30 August, one week later than scheduled.

The referendum, originally planned for 8 August, had already been postponed once because of continuing fears about security in the territory.

Reacting to the new delay, pro-independence leader Jose Ramos Horta denounced Jakarta for its failure to provide adequate security.

The BBC's Jonathan Head: "The rebels are convinced the winds of change are blowing their way"
"The postponement is in fact a slap in the face of the Indonesian authorities," the Nobel peace prize laureate said in Manila.

Mr Annan is expected to make an announcement about his decision later on Wednesday.

The vote will determine whether the East Timorese want to move towards complete independence or greater autonomy within Indonesia.

Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975 and annexed it a year later - a move not recognised by the UN.

Mr Annan, who has the final say on the date of the ballot, had said earlier that the vote was conditional on the Indonesian authorities being able to improve security conditions in the territory to ensure a fair vote.

[ image: Indonesia said it would do more to improve security in East Timor]
Indonesia said it would do more to improve security in East Timor
The Indonesian foreign minister said he believed the main, but not the sole, reason for the delay was the fact that voter registration began late.

He said Mr Annan had also cited the security situation as a factor in the delay.

"We think that the security situation is constantly improving. There are of course sporadic incidents of violence between the two groups (of pro- and anti-independence forces).

"But we can overcome that. We are overcoming that," Mr Alatas said.

The BBC's Jonathan Head in East Timor: UN officials are determined the vote should not go ahead until conditions are right
BBC Jakarta Correspondent Jonathan Head says a delay in the vote beyond 30 August could cause serious difficulties for the UN, whose mandate in East Timor officially runs out at the end of August.

If the vote goes beyond the August deadline, the UN will have to secure a new mandate.

Refugees unregistered

Up to 50% of voters have already been registered, but the UN still faces the problem of registering an estimated 50,000 refugees who have fled their homes amid months of violence between pro- and anti-independence factions.

The refugees represent some 10% of the electorate, and if they are not registered the UN will not be in a position to say that the election can go ahead freely and fairly - possibly causing another delay.

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