Timorese rebels in election day attack

Indonesia poll: Up to 22 die in Fretilin guerrilla assaults on police stations as ruling Golkar party garners a massive majority
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The Independent Online
There was only one more thing which could have gone wrong in the Indonesian elections and yesterday, polling day, it happened. Since campaigning began at the end of May, there has been violent religious conflict, fights between members of rival political parties, and economic unrest has been expressed by mobs of youths burning cars, banks, and luxury shops.

There has also been racial tension in Borneo between local tribesmen and immigrants from the island of Madura. Of the conflicts that dog Indonesia, just one had remained dormant - until yesterday, when independence fighters in East Timor launched a series of attacks on polling booths and police stations. Early results suggested, as expected, a massive majority for the ruling Golkar party of President Suharto - with 2.57 million of the country's 125 million potential votes counted, Golkar had almost 92 per cent, thanks to a highly regulated electoral system which overwhelmingly favours the ruling party.

By last night there had been no reports of large-scale violence. In Jakarta, the atmosphere was one of festivity, as people turned out at the thousands of tiny polling booths spaced every few hundred yards throughout the huge city.

For the last few months, East Timor, brutally invaded by Indonesia in 1975, has been quiet, too, but reports in Jakarta yesterday indicated that the East Timorese resistance have launched their biggest offensive for many years. Conflicting accounts said up to 22 people had been killed in attacks by members of the Fretilin resistance army on polling stations and police stations.

All information comes from the police and military, and is impossible to confirm, but it appears that four guerrillas were killed and four captured late on Wednesday night, when a group of 13 attacked a police station in the capital, Dili, in an attempt to seize guns. Local people described hearing a two-hour gun battle, and the police claimed that overnight attacks had been carried out on dozens of polling stations in the Timorese towns of Baucau, Ermera, Viqueque and Los Palos in which around four rebels, nine civilians and two policemen were killed.

According to the territory's chief of police, Colonel Yusuf Muharam, three people were said to be missing, having been abducted during the battles by unidentified men. The rebels ambushed two police trucks near Baucau on Tuesday, killing two officers and injuring dozens of others. Yesterday, at least one policeman was seriously hurt, and possibly killed, while guarding a polling booth.

At a meeting of Nato foreign ministers in Lisbon, the Indonesian elections were condemned by Portugal, which the United Nations still regards as the legitimate authority in East Timor. "Elections in Indonesia have not been free elections," said the Portuguese foreign minister, Jaime Gama. "In East Timor, an occupied territory, those elections could not have been free, and the people there have shown that they do not accept occupation and annexation." There were no major reports of electoral irregularities but, with counting controlled entirely by government-appointed organisations and only a small independent monitoring organisation, they would be unlikely to come to light.

Many Indonesians are required to vote at their place of work, a situation which offers many opportunities for political pressure to be exerted on them.

In the final result, there are few interesting questions: the size of Golkar's majority compared to previous years; the proportion of abstentions and spoiled or blank ballots; and the possibility that a huge ruling party victory will provoke more frustration and more violence.