Six members of a Cambodian team sent to East Timor to monitor the province’s historic referendum came home Monday night unscathed by the violence now sweeping the island.
But they returned with stories of torched homes, people shot to death in the streets and UN workers held hostage. They left Indonesia on Thursday ahead of the brutal wave of killings that has ripped through East Timor, spurred by pro-Jakarta militias.
“During the [voting] it was very quiet, there was no killing, no violence. But when they brought the ballot book from the polling stations to Dili, this was the problem,” Leav Sakoeun, one of the returning monitors, said.
Nuon Davy, administrative assistant for UN Volunteers, the group that coordinated the monitoring trip, said the six were returning as scheduled and had not been evacuated because of the violence.
Three more Cambodian monitors—already out of Indonesia—are scheduled to fly into Pochentong Airport this evening.
Om Radsady, a former National Assembly member, was scheduled to stay behind for as long as a month as part of a second phase of the monitoring, Nuon Davy said. It was not known whether he was among more than 300 UN workers evacuated to Australia on Monday.
The 10 are all veteran monitors of the 1993 and 1998 elections in Cambodia. Narin Sok, one of the returning monitors, said the unrest surrounding Cambodia’s elections was mild compared to the situation in East Timor. But Narin Sok called the vote a success, despite the efforts of militias fighting independence.
“It’s really amazing. It’s beyond my expectations,” Narin Sok said. “I never thought people would go to vote, because of the intimidation, because of the violence.”
Though widespread killings did not start until after the referendum, violence was building as the UN workers prepared for the vote. While Narin Sok was training local staff in the province of Emera to work at the polls, militias burned down the workers’ house. The day after the vote, Narin Sok said, he was among a group of 175 UN workers and journalists detained by militias for 10 hours. They were released unharmed and sped toward Dili in a convoy of cars.
“We’re used to that kind of tense situation, so it’s not scary for us,” Narin Sok said. “Because we work for the UN, we believe the UN will protect us.”
The six Cambodian monitors left Dili on Thursday after spending a night at the UN compound where militias had surrounded the building, spraying the air with gunfire and burning nearby houses.
The situation has deteriorated rapidly since the Cambodian monitors left East Timor. By Monday there were reports of militias chopping off the heads of pro-independence supporters and displaying them on poles throughout Dili.
But Narin Sok said he is confident the killings will stop and the independence vote will be enforced. “If there is still continued pressure from the international community on the government of Indonesia, I believe the violence soon will come to an end,” he said. “But every foreign country must put pressure on that, because the local militia in that area are supported by the Indonesian military.”