Monday, May 07, 2007
Urge for Calm Before East Timor Vote
ISF troops around 50 metres away from a Presidential rally in Ainaro.
Glenn Campbell, The Age
As leaders urge their supporters to remain peaceful, there are fears that if East Timor's ruling party Fretilin loses this week's presidential election, street violence could follow.
The UN mission in the tiny state urged voters to accept the result of Wednesday's runoff which many East Timorese hope will help stabilise the impoverished nation beset by violence and regional rivalry. It's the first presidential poll since East Timor gained independence in 2002, amid concerns of unrest.
Election observers have expressed concern that supporters of the ruling Fretilin party could trigger violence if their candidate, Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres, loses.
Guterres faces Nobel laureate and current prime minister Jose Ramos-Horta in the runoff being held because neither candidate won a majority in the first-round polls last month.
Asked if the UN mission was concerned violence would erupt once the result was declared, spokeswoman Allison Cooper said: "We would urge all people in East Timor to remain calm and peaceful -- so far this has been a free and fair process."
Ramos-Horta, who shared the Nobel peace prize in 1996 for championing East Timor's cause under Indonesian occupation, is favoured to win after five of the six losing candidates in the April 9 poll urged their supporters to back him.
Campaigning for the election has been peaceful, amid tight security provided by thousands of UN and local police, backed by international peacekeeping troops, deployed in the wake of unrest last year.
Meanwhile, Australian-led peacekeeping troops have rejected Fretilin accusations that they were deliberately intimidating party supporters and disrupting its campaign rallies.
Fretilin officials have written to the troops' commander, Brigadier Mal Rerden, complaining about the intimidation, which they suggested was done in support of Ramos-Horta.
A spokesman for the peacekeepers, known as the International Stabilisation Force, said all of their East Timor operations were done to "ensure a safe and secure election."
More on East Timor's presidential vote in "The Age"