Mon, 27 Aug 2001

Checkpoint closed ahead of East Timor elections

JAKARTA (JP): Starting on Sunday, the checkpoint on the border between East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) province and East Timor will be closed for 10 days to avoid a possible inflow of refugees from the new state, which will hold its first constituent assembly elections on Aug. 30.

Chief of the provincial border police, Chief Brig. Apolinario da Silva, said in the border town of Mota Ain, some 200 kilometers northeast of the provincial capital of Kupang, on Sunday that the local police had received an order from the National Police leadership that the checkpoint should be closed five days before and five days after the election day.

The crossing will be reopened on Sept. 5.

He said based on the order, the police should work hand in hand with military personnel to secure border areas in an effort to prevent trespassers entering the provincial territory.

"We all hope that the elections in East Timor on Aug. 30 will run smoothly and peacefully and without any conflicts that could lead to the eviction of certain groups of East Timorese into NTT areas," Da Silva was quoted by Antara as saying.

"But, if it (the eviction) happens, the military and police will direct the border crossers to a 'free zone' so as to avoid physical clashes between the new refugees and those already staying in NTT border areas.

The checkpoint closure has caused a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) activists, who wanted to observe the general election, to cancel their plans.

"We canceled our plan to monitor the East Timor general election as the checkpoint is closed," said Vinsensius B. Loe, director of the Atambua-based Solidarity Foundation.

"But many activists from 60 NGOs are already in the former Indonesian territory to monitor the elections," he added.

He further said that based on observation, security measures had been tightened along the border areas, either by Indonesian military and police officers or by the UN Peacekeeping Force (UN- PKF) and the East Timorese Defense Force (FDTL).

Usually, areas around the checkpoint are busy, but on Sunday it was virtually deserted, with fewer passengers on public transportation vehicles.

"We got very few passengers today due to the closure of the checkpoint, but we will get more passengers when it is reopened on Sept. 5," said Fransiskus Klau, a public transportation driver.

East Timor, currently under United Nations administration, will hold its first presidential election early next year and is expected to attain full independence by mid-2002. (02)