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DATE=8/27/1999 TYPE=U-S OPINION ROUNDUP TITLE=EAST TIMOR GETS TO CHOOSE NUMBER=6-11443 BYLINE=ANDREW GUTHRIE DATELINE=WASHINGTON EDITOR=ASSIGNMENTS TELEPHONE=619-3335 CONTENT= INTRO: The island of Timor, part of the Indonesian archipelago, is very much back in this news these days as half the island's population prepares for a critical and historic vote on Monday. The outcome will determine whether the eastern half of the island becomes independent or remains part of Indonesia with considerable local autonomy. As the vote draws near, and violence between the two sides escalates, the U-S press is filled with commentaries, and we get a sampling now from _____________ in today's Editorial Digest. TEXT: The island of Timor covers about 31-thousand square kilometers and has a population of about two million. While the western half has always been a part of Indonesia since that country won its independence from the Dutch in 1949, the eastern half was long a Portuguese colony. However, the Portuguese pulled out in 1975 when the population demanded independence. But Indonesia moved in troops, and a year later declared the eastern half the island Indonesian territory. A significant portion of the population has agitated for independence from Indonesia, since then, and there have been several violent outbreaks in recent years. Now, the government in Jakarta has allowed the United Nations to supervise a referendum in which the people of East Timor will choose between independence and continued association with Indonesia. However armed gangs of young men, believed supported by the Indonesian military, have been terrorizing the island for weeks, and on Thursday, during one of the worst outbreaks in the capital of Dili, at least five people were killed. These militias are said to be preparing for war against the pro-independence forces if the vote favors independence. The United Nations election monitors are unarmed and depend on the Indonesian national police to keep order. The U-S press is upset at the violence, and is calling on the world community to assure a fair, and trouble- free vote. In Boston, The Christian Science Monitor remains hopeful, despite the latest news of violence. VOICE: Asia is riddled with good and bad legacies from centuries of European colonialism. On Monday, voters in one former Portuguese colony in Southeast Asia will get a chance to reject their second colonial ruler. . A referendum in tiny East Timor, a land of 800-thousand people . north of Australia, is expected to end a 24-year occupation that began with a brutal invasion by its giant neighbor, Indonesia. If Indonesia allows a clean break for the Connecticut- size territory, a new nation will be born. Right now, that's still in doubt. . some elements of the Indonesian military have backed local anti- independence militias, who may sabotage the ballot and also threaten to start a post-vote civil war . Several thousand people have already been intimidated into fleeing their homes - and likely won't vote. Washington should give [Indonesian President] Habibie and the Indonesian military a clear signal to curb such violence and gracefully relinquish control of the territory. For nearly a quarter-century, East Timor has been a rallying cry for human rights activists. With freedom at hand, it needs one final expression of support. TEXT: Some thoughts from The Christian Science Monitor. The Boston Globe is also watching closely the situation leading up to the vote, suggesting that the future of this "long-oppressed" people really hangs in the balance. VOICE: President Clinton and the rest of the U-S government need to put concerted pressure on Indonesia to make sure that a vote on their [the Timorese] political future Monday is conducted fairly and without violence. U-N monitors have done their best to register voters and make sure the referendum goes smoothly, but their work is threatened by militias fighting for continued ties with Indonesia, which illegally occupied the country in 1975. The militias went on a rampage yesterday [8/26] in Dili, East Timor's capital, killing [five] people and threatening to engulf the country in a "sea of fire," as one of their leaders put it, if the vote favors independence. . For decades, the United States supported the Suharto regime's occupation of East Timor. Now Indonesia has a different president and a weakened economy that requires U-S support, and President Clinton is well positioned to apply pressure. He should do so now, as should the State Department and the Pentagon. TEXT: The Washington Post agrees, and is even worried about the possibility of war breaking out between those favoring autonomy within the Indonesian republic and those who want independence. The Post says: VOICE: . the Indonesian military has armed and nurtured private militias that, according to an on- site report . are now preparing for war. This is alarming news, calling for a strong response from the United States and other friends of Indonesia. The people of East Timor finally have a chance, a quarter- century late, to determine their own future. Indonesia's armed forces must not be permitted to spoil that. TEXT: Adds today's Philadelphia Inquirer: VOICE: On the eve of this fateful vote, national governments, international organizations (including lenders) and global business leaders must send an unequivocal message to Jakarta: The will of the East Timorese people can no longer be betrayed. If militia violence continues after the elections, and Indonesia's military can't or won't quash it, the United Nations' current unarmed peacekeepers must be backed up with a U-N-sponsored force. TEXT: On that note, we conclude this sampling of comment from the United States press on the future of East Timor. NEB/ANG/KL/ 27-Aug-1999 15:07 PM EDT (27-Aug-1999 1907 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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