The International Federation for East Timor (IFET) announced plans to recruit at least 200 international volunteers to observe and report on the August 8 vote by the people of East Timor on their political status.
The world-wide coalition said it "is encouraging individuals and groups to join our project to send nonpartisan volunteer observers to East Timor to ensure a fair vote without prejudice to the outcome."
IFET hopes that its presence alongside other international observers during the UN-organized voting will help deter violent efforts to subvert the process.
On May 5, Indonesia and Portugal signed an agreement for the United Nations to conduct a "popular consultation" on "special autonomy" for East Timor on August 8.
"We are going to East Timor to ensure that the East Timorese people are able to decide for themselves," said Charles Scheiner, U.N. Representative of IFET. "Our observers will be non-partisan. We will work with a wide range of East Timorese groups as well as with Indonesian non-governmental organizations, U.N. personnel, and other observer missions. We plan to be in contact with both pro-independence and pro-autonomy advocates, as well as with Indonesian civilian and military officials."
The international coalition expressed concern that the Indonesian military and the paramilitary "civilian militias" it is supporting are trying to subvert the vote. Violence against supporters of independence has reached horrific levels over the last several weeks. The paramilitaries have killed more than 150 people since April, and forced more than 50,000 people to flee their homes, often inflicting violence against random civilians to create a climate of universal fear.
Under the agreement establishing the vote, the U.N. will accredit international observers. IFET observers will follow the U.N. Code of Conduct for observers.
If the East Timorese people reject autonomy, the May 5 accord obligates Indonesia to transfer authority over East Timor to the United Nations If the voters approve autonomy, Portugal and the U.N. will legally recognize East Timor as part of Indonesia. Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975, annexing the former Portuguese colony the following year in a move not recognized by the U.N.
The International Federation for East Timor includes more than 30 member groups from 19 countries. It was founded in 1991 by East Timor support organizations from four continents as a clearinghouse for non-governmental initiatives on East Timor. IFET is accredited with the United Nations Department of Public Information. Its secretariat is in the Philippines.
A full description of the IFET observer project is on the World Wide Web at www.easttimor.com/news_today/0068.htm. Further information will available soon at www.etan.org/ifet/index.htm.