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East Timor Independence Rally Held

August 15, 1999

DILI, Indonesia (AP) _ With two weeks to go before a key vote that will decide the future of East Timor, nearly 5,000 people from the troubled territory rallied Sunday in favor of becoming independent from Indonesia.

East Timorese will vote Aug. 30 on whether they want to be fully independent or have autonomy but remain within Indonesia. The ballot is supervised by the United Nations.

The official two-week campaigning period opened Saturday. That same day, several hundred anti-independence activists rallied in the capital, Dili.

In a recorded speech broadcast at Sunday’s event, jailed pro-independence leader Jose Alexandre Xanana Gusmao urged supporters to show respect for East Timorese who want autonomy within Indonesia.

``For the past 24 years our enemy have not been the East Timorese people who want integration with Indonesia. Our main enemy has been the Indonesian military,″ said Gusmao, who is still under house arrest in Jakarta.

Indonesia’s armed forces and particularly their top commanders, bear responsibility for atrocities committed in the province, he said.

U.N. officials hailed people’s good behavior at Saturday’s anti-independence rally, describing the event as a promising start to the campaign. Many had feared it could be marred by violence between the rival factions.

In a move that was never recognized by the United Nations, Indonesia occupied the former Portuguese colony in 1975. Tired of international condemnation, Indonesia said last January it would be willing to let East Timor break away if the majority of its people opted for independence.

That prospect has polarized the region’s 800,000 people. Anti-independence militias, allegedly formed with the support of Indonesia’s military, are blamed for the violence that has swept across the territory in recent months.

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