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UNAMET helicopter landing, Same, south of Dili Someone told me that during the registration period, when the ballot choices were being explained, people had consulted their priests. They wanted to be certain of the meaning of the words on the ballot: “autonomy” and “integration.” Which choice, they would ask the priests, would get the Indonesian military out of East Timor? I saw no fraud on polling day. Irregularities were pointed out to the U.N. staff who quickly responded and made corrections. The IFETObserver Project had teams of observers in thirteen districts that day, in dozens of the 200 polling centers. Our project believes that this was as free and fair an election as could be conducted in an atmosphere of violence and intimidation, that the U.N. fairly administered the referendum, and that the results overwhelmingly against integration and for independence reflect the will of the East Timorese. Yet no one cheered when the results were announced. Some cried. On Saturday, September 4, a few hours after the results had been announced, I visited with a Timorese man in Dili. He was very happy with the results 78 percent voted for in dependence but admitted it would be foolish to celebrate and antagonize the militias. Yet he was smiling, as were many in his neighborhood, and cautiously optimistic. We parted hurriedly because the gunfire started earlier than usual that evening. His house was burned that night. On Monday, exactly a week after the polls had opened, our team of election observers met to determine who would stay to continue our work over the coming days and weeks. We had spent Sunday night at the nearby police station, evacuated for fear that our office would be attacked. The shooting had gone on all night; houses were burned within blocks of the station. We had that morning said goodbye to several of our Timorese staff. Earlier in the week our presence served to protect them, but the situation had changed so that now we only helped to make them targets for the police, the militia, and the military. As they drove away, we knew they might run into the militia within blocks. The William Seaman militia had been attacking with guns and machetes for days. We had learned during the night that the Australian military was flying in planes that day to relocate to Darwin, Australia, all nonessential U.N. staff and any other foreigners who wanted to leave. Consular officials from several countries stopped by our office early that morning to advise us to leave. In spite of the violence escalating all around us, our meeting that Monday morning was calmer than many meetings the previous week. Of the approximately fifty international observers remaining out of 168 on the day of the polling fifteen bravely chose to stay. They were hopeful that in the coming days and weeks they could report on the burnings and forced evacuations, on the tenor and the killings that were becoming more prevalent each hour. They also hoped that their presence might provoke an international peacekeeping effort. I had chosen to leave on the noon flight, what turned out to be the last commercial flight out of Dili. Large fires burned in Becora in eastern Dili, where I had spent polling day. I learned later that the militia paid a visit to our office sometime after I left. They gave the remaining observers a warning; I suspect that telephone lines and electricity may have already been cut. In any case, the fifteen who had chosen to stay left later that day for Darwin. The only foreigners remaining were some U.N. staff and a few journalists. Two thousand East Timorese had taken refuge in the U.N. headquarters along with the U.N. staff, even though the headquarters had already been attacked. No place was safe. The following morning, the Indonesian government declared martial law. War had indeed come to East Timor: a one-sided war, waged by the Indonesian military and their militias against the Timorese. Austinite Gail Rothe is a water development planner with the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. She previously worked in international development in Bolivia, Central America, East Timor as observers of the independence referendum, with the International Federation for East Timor-Observer Project. 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 1, 1999