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with this situation, the question naturally arose: Should we proceed
with the ballot? Despite our advice that we should not proceed,
U.N. authorities, concerned a delay might lead to a decline in international
support for the mission, or that the process might be derailed altogether,
decided to go ahead with the vote.
on these considerations, the process of voter registration proceeded
with only minor delay. And as the registration process got under-way
in July, we witnessed something remarkable: East Timorese defied
the militias and the TNI. They walked or rode for miles, stood in
long lines in the hot sun and braved militia threats and outright
assault for the chance to register. After 22 days, the number who
registered was almost 450,000 -- about 100,000 more than the most
optimistic estimates of U.N. electoral officials. No one who was
there to witness it will forget Aug. 30, the day of the vote. East
Timorese -- many dressed in their Sunday best, and some having left
home in the middle of the night to reach the polling station by
dawn -- once again defied the militias for the chance to vote on
their future. When the figures were tallied at the end of the day,
an extraordinary 98.6 percent of registered voters had cast their
ballots. And when the results were announced a few days later, an
overwhelming majority -- 78.5 percent -- had opted for independence.
we counted the ballots in the great hall of the regional museum
in Dili, there was a feeling of disbelief and euphoria that this
vote, which so many thought would never happen, had taken place.
But there was also a palpable tension; we worried that the counting
was unlikely to go without some reaction from Indonesia and its
thuggish supporters. At any moment, someone could have walked through
the door and thrown a petrol bomb, burning up all the ballots and
us along with them.
elation we felt over the success of the ballot was short-lived.
Within hours of the end of voting, the militias began a rampage
of violence against those it perceived as enemies. Among the first
victims was a local UNAMET staff member, a school teacher, stabbed
to death by militiamen just after the polls closed as he helped
to load the ballot boxes into U.N. vehicles for transport to the
counting center. The news came to us in a garbled radio message
from one of our outlying posts; one of our own people had been murdered.