As we go to press on Aug. 30, hundreds of thousands of residents of East Timor have cast their votes in a UN-supervised referendum for independence from Indonesia.
Reports indicate that over 90 percent of registered voters went to the polls-in strong defiance of the pro-Indonesian militias. These death squads killed dozens of independence supporters in the weeks before the voting. Further threats were made to kill anyone who voted for independence.
This coffee-growing nation, on the eastern half of Timor island, has been occupied by Indonesia for close to 24 years. A third of the indigenous civilian population, over 200,000 people, were wiped out by Indonesian forces using military equipment provided by the United States.
In fact, the Carter administration expedited the delivery of aircraft to Indonesia, which were used to bomb and strafe Timorese refugees who had fled to the mountains.
In late August, President Clinton belatedly wrote a letter to Indonesian President Habibie in which he vaguely warned of a halt to economic aid if Indonesia does not do more to rein in the militias, which it controls. But Clinton said nothing about cutting off the arms that Washington continues to supply.
The vote totals will be released in early September. If a majority favors independence, it will probably take a couple of months for the Indonesian parliament to ratify it. Meanwhile, massacres and disruptions by the death squads are expected to continue.