/** reg.easttimor: 2285.0 **/

** Topic: IPS/E.Timor: Scared Voters Troop to Polls in Big Turnout **
** Written 2:16 PM Aug 30, 1999 by Joyo@aol.com in cdp:reg.easttimor **
Subject: IPS/E.Timor: Scared Voters Troop to Polls in Big Turnout

EAST TIMOR: Scared Voters Troop to Polls in Big Turnout

By Kafil Yamin

DILI, East Timor, Aug 30 (IPS) - Hundreds of thousands of East Timorese went to the polls today, fearful of violence but determined to take part in a historic vote on their future after 24 years of Indonesian rule.

Thousands of voters clutching their registration papers queued up under the heat in every corner of the capital Dili -- in sharp contrast to the scenes of terror and intimidation that persisted here due to the pro-Indonesia militias until a few days ago.

Many voters had been standing in line since 6 a.m. Some were old men and women who were led by kin to the polling stations.

In the Vila Verde polling station here, the queue of voters quickly blocked the road, putting traffic at a total standstill. Shops, offices and schools were closed for the day.

''The enthusiasm is so high. Look at their faces. There are flashes of excitement and joy. That is the reflection of their own future,'' commented Francisco Dionisio Fernandez, a university student, glancing at his fellow East Timorese in line.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), estimated initially that some 79 percent of the more than 450,000 registered voters cast their ballots Monday.

One UNAMET spokesman, Jeanny Grant, said this may rise up to 95 percent.

Early reports said that 50 percent of the more than 450,000 registered voters had trooped to East Timor's more than 800 polling stations by 10 a.m. Monday.

Results of the Aug 30 ballot, including those cast by eligible voters outside East Timor, are expected to be known in about a week. Counting will take place in Dili.

In terms of number and mood, the enthusiasm for this balloting clearly exceeded that for the June general election held across Indonesia, when only few Timorese case their votes.

As the day of the UN-overseen ballot wore on, a sense of relief spread through many East Timorese.

''I have voted for my own destiny, that of my own children and maybe for my grandchildren,'' said a woman returning home from a polling station.

''I think this ballot will put the bloody conflict to an end. Things will be more certain. That's why we vote,'' said Francisco Nunes Dos Santos, a government employee in Dili.

UNAMET personnel were visible here and UN helicopters could be heard hovering over the capital the whole day.

East Timorese voters were asked two questions. First, ''Do you accept the proposed special autonomy for East Timor within the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia?'' Second, ''do you reject the proposed special autonomy for East Timor, leading to East Timor's separation from Indonesia?''

Dili has been largely quiet since the weekend, despite a handful of reports of gunshots fired and other incidents in some parts of East Timor during Monday.

On Friday, the last day of the campaign leading to the ballot, three more people were killed in bloody clashes between pro- autonomy and pro-independence forces.

Prior to that, more than a dozen were reported killed in militia-related activity, prompting international observers and the UN to call on the Indonesian government to do more to honour its pledge to provide adequate security for the ballot.

On Sunday, warring factions held rival press conferences expressing their support for either independence or autonomy under Indonesia but pledged to stay away from more violence.

''This is a historical moment. This is the first time when we, of pro-autonomy and pro-independence (groups) who are in the field, sit down together and make a genuine agreement,'' Eurico Guterres of the Pro-Integration Forces (PPI) told the press.

''In the past, such agreements had always been made by those who are on high political positions but not aware of the reality on the field,'' he added.

Falur Rate Laec, commander of Region III of Falintil, the fighting force of the pro-independence group, made similar statements.

Then, the two shook hands and posed for photographers, but a few hours later, yet another clash occurred just a few kilometres away from the conference venue. Two pro-integration supporters were killed on their way to their headquarters in Becora village.

The pro-independence vote is widely expected to win, although in a national address Sunday, President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie urged East Timorese to stay part of the ''Indonesian family''.

''Despite the government's serious intention to help them, there are East Timorese who are still rejecting Indonesia's sincere help,'' he said, urging East Timorese 'not to waste this opportunity to vote for a wide-ranging autonomy''.

Habibie had set the process in motion for Monday's balloting. Reversing decades of refusal by the Indonesian government to consider separation by East Timor, he said early this year that Jakarta would let East Timor if it wished to.

The ballot was set in an agreement involving the United Nations, Indonesia and Portugal, East Timor's former coloniser whose departure in the mid-seventies ended with Jakarta's invasion of the territory.

The UN never accepted Indonesia's annexation of East Timor's as its 27th province and considers Portugal its administrator.

Now that voting has wound up here, analysts are concerned about what happens next. Many fear a recurrence of violence after the result of the ballot is announced, especially if either side refuses to accept the results.

''The yardstick for a peaceful process is not today, but late when the result is announced,'' said Florentino Sarmento, an East Timorese who is also a member of Indonesia's National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas-HAM).

In its editorial Monday, the 'Jakarta Post' said the Indonesian government should let the vote be and in no way interfere in it.

''Indonesia made a mistake in 1975 and has paid a very heavy price, not only in terms of lives and money, but more importantly in terms of its dignity and international standing,'' it argued. ''Indonesia cannot afford to make that mistake again.'' (END/IPS/ap-ip-hd/ky/js/99)

** End of text from cdp:reg.easttimor **