Thursday August 26 8:25 AM ET

Three Die In Violence As E.Timor Vote Nears By Tim Johnston

DILI, East Timor (Reuters) - At least three people were killed as
supporters and opponents of independence clashed in Dili Thursday, the
next to last day of campaigning for a referendum on East Timor's future

United Nations officials said one person died after being stabbed and one after being shot. A third body was seen lying in a pool of blood in a street by Reuters journalists.

A Reuters photographer was shot in the leg. The violence began as some 8,000 opponents of independence were staging their final rally in the capital. Witnesses said some of them threw rocks at a picture of jailed resistance leader Xanana Gusmao, who is a hero to the pro-independence camp.

Pro-independence campaigners also threw rocks at a truck carrying members of a pro-Jakarta militia, they said. At one point, members of the Aitarak pro-Jakarta militia opened fire with automatic weapons, they said.

A standoff followed between the two sides, and then some of the anti-independence people set fire to three houses. ``Then somebody just started shooting... I think it was militia because he was in militia clothes, one witness said. About 30 minutes later a large number of Aitarak militia turned up who were then stoned by pro-independence people. ``The pro-independence people started throwing stones and then the militia opened fire. This time the police did nothing, the witness said.

The mother of one of the dead was seen screaming by the body of her son, her face smeared with his blood.

``Why did you have to be sacrificed? Why is my country suffering like this, she yelled, throwing herself on the ground. ``He didnt have any gun. He didnt have a weapon. He didnt do anything, she sad, clutching her sons maroon beret, which bore a badge of the National Council for Timorese Resistance (CNRT), the main resistance umbrella group.

Military officials declined comment on the day's violence. Pastor Adrianus Ola of one local church said six people were being treated there for gunshot wounds to the head, leg or back. ``I prayed for one man who died of a gunshot to his head. Its very tense and Ive got no idea where the situation is heading. It seems that UNAMET cannot maintain security, he said. UNAMET, the United Nations Mission in East Timor, is organizing Mondays vote under a May agreement between Indonesia and Portugal, the territory's colonial ruler.

The poll offers East Timorese a choice between wide-ranging autonomy within Indonesia and moves toward independence. The runup to the referendum has been marred by widespread violence, despite a series of agreements by both sides to discuss the territory's future in peace.

Dozens have been killed in the unrest, mostly blamed on pro-Jakarta militias.

Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 after the Portuguese withdrew. Some 200,000 East Timorese have died of war, famine or disease under Indonesian rule.