- The Washington Times - Friday, August 31, 2001

ULMERA, East Timor A day's walk wasn't too far for an old farmer named Sama Leki eager to vote in East Timor's first democratic elections yesterday.
"Yeah, I'm tired, but we have to do it. We've just got our independence, so we can't be weary," Mr. Leki, who is almost 80, said after casting his ballot early yesterday.
He said he and other people from his village near Ermera district had made the long journey to vote at a school in this rural community about 12 miles west of the capital, Dili.
After living through decades of Portuguese colonial rule and 24 years of brutal Indonesian occupation, Mr. Leki and about 425,000 other registered voters had the first chance in their history to elect their own political representatives.
Two years ago, East Timorese braved intimidation and thug violence to vote for independence from Indonesia.
Yesterday, East Timorese turned out in massive numbers again, but in an atmosphere free from violence.
"Now we've truly got our independence," said Mr. Leki, who wore stylish pants and a sweater for the special occasion. Many other voters in this poor, dusty country also walked to the polls in their best clothes.
East Timor remains under U.N. administration, but the 88-member constituent assembly elected in yesterday's vote will write East Timor's constitution and is expected to lead the young nation to full independence early next year.
More than three hours after the polls officially closed last night, some voters still were waiting in line to cast their ballots, said Carlos Valenzuela, the United Nations' chief electoral officer. He estimated the turnout at 93 percent of registered voters.
James A. Kelly, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, led a delegation of U.S. electoral observers who visited several crowded polling centers in Dili.
"There wasn't a holiday atmosphere … there was a kind of determination, but there also wasn't a tension. It was just obvious people weren't afraid of something bad that was going to happen to them," Mr. Kelly told reporters later.
Yesterday's vote gave electors a choice of 16 parties and came exactly two years after East Timorese voted in a referendum overwhelmingly for independence despite violence aimed at swaying the vote in favor of autonomy within Indonesia.
Evidence of that campaign was visible yesterday on a burned-out section of the school building where Mr. Leki returned to vote as he had in 1999. "Autonomy yes," said the graffiti.
"Two years ago, there were many people pressuring us," said Agustina Lorencia, 25, arms wrapped around her son Belarmino, 5, as she stood waiting to cast her ballot in the town of Liquica, just west of Ulmera village.
About four months before the 1999 ballot, Liquica was the scene of one of the worst massacres of that year's violence. About 60 people were slaughtered at a church not far from the school where Mrs. Lorencia waited to vote.
Throughout East Timor, more than 1,000 East Timorese died in violence before and after the 1999 ballot.
Many people fled towns like Liquica before that referendum, but those who remained were forced to fly red and white Indonesian flags from their tin-roofed homes, most of which later were burned to the ground by Indonesian forces.
The homes are being rebuilt now, and so is the nation. Yesterday, voters said they won't mind if their preferred parties are not big winners.
"Win or lose, this is for the development of Timor Loro Sae," Francisco da Costa Amaral, 39, said, using his new country's local name, which means Timor, land of the rising sun.
Initial results from some districts should be available by Sunday, followed about four days later by a preliminary national tally, U.N. officials said.
The Revolutionary Front of Independent East Timor, a centrist socialist party known as Fretilin, is widely expected to win the bulk of assembly seats.


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