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Tuesday, August 24, 1999 Published at 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK

Q & A: East Timor Referendum

By BBC News Online's Julian Duplain

What will people be voting for?

The people of East Timor will be asked to vote yes to one of the two following statements:

[ image:  ]
"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?"

A vote to accept the autonomy proposal would mean that the central Indonesian 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.

If the ballot rejects the autonomy proposal, Jakarta has indicated it will grant independence to the former Portuguese colony which it invaded in 1975 and annexed the following year.

How many registered voters are there?

The total population of East Timor is 800,000, of whom around 600,000 would be eligible to vote.

However, only around 450,000 have registered to vote, of whom around 13,000 are East Timorese living outside the province

Who is organising the referendum and how much is it costing?

The referendum is being organised by the United Nations Mission in East Timor (Unamet), at a total cost of $53m.

Will violence by pro-Jakarta militias affect the result?

There are between 8,000 - 10,000 militia members, who are widely thought to be backed by the Indonesian military.

Large areas of the province have not been affected by violence, and in those areas, the vote should be a success.

[ image: Anti-independence demonstrators wave Indonesian flags at a rally in Dili]
Anti-independence demonstrators wave Indonesian flags at a rally in Dili
But in the west of the territory where the militias have become very active over the past six months, Unamet cannot be sure that the election will take place smoothly.

The militias are still very hostile to this referendum, and increasingly they are showing that they are ready to use violence against their pro-independence opponents. And in those circumstances a big question mark hangs over the whole operation.

Are ordinary East Timorese enthusiastic about the referendum?

Almost everywhere in East Timor, Unamet has been encouraged by the extraordinary enthusiasm of the Timorese people.

They believe that everybody in East Timor wants to take part in this historic opportunity.

Do people know what they have to do on voting day?

[ image: Pro-independence activitsts prepare for victory with an early cake]
Pro-independence activitsts prepare for victory with an early cake
Unamet teams have been going out around the country, even to small mountain villages, and explaining every detail of the voting process.

Although people may have cast their ballots in Indonesian elections in the past, this is the first time that most people have been able to make a real choice that really matters to them.

There is enormous interest and people walk for hours to come to the UN briefings.

But some UN officials suspect that not everyone who comes to the meetings follows the details of the voting procedures, despite the choruses of affirmation from the audiences when they are asked if they understand everything.

Can people be sure that their vote will be secret?

People in villages have been very keen to know how secret the vote will be and Unamet has been stressing that indeed it will be a secret ballot.

People could very well be deterred from taking part if there was any fear that their vote might somehow become known, which might leave them open to reprisals.

Unamet officials have also been explaining how people can register their votes on the ballot and what the counting procedure will be.

How accurately will the vote reflect people's real opinions?

[ image: East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao features on pro-independence posters]
East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao features on pro-independence posters
Unamet has acknowledged from the start that this process was flawed. The Indonesians retain control of security, which has been a huge problem throughout. The security forces are not reigning in the militias as they should be.

All the way through Unamet has seen problems and yet they remain confident that people will turn out to vote and vote freely.

How quickly will the results be announced?

All votes will be taken to the East Timorese capital Dili for counting in the presence of observers.

Results are expected to be finalized approximately one week after the 30th August ballot, and they will be announced in two places: in New York by the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, and in Dili.

Unamet will be not give individual results for each village or district.

Only a single aggregate result for the whole of East Timor will be announced.

Who will win?

According to BBC Correspondent Jonathan Head, who is in East Timor for the vote, most people expect that there will be a resounding vote in favour of independence.

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