On Sunday (30 August), it will be 10 years since the people of East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia. Following 24 years in which more than a quarter of the population was killed or died as result of the occupation, the vote of almost 80 per cent in favour of independence was not surprising.
What was extraordinary was that in what had become a war zone, 98.6 per cent of registered voters turned out to vote. Many had trekked long distances over rough tracks, coming down from the relative safety of the mountains to line up before dawn at polling stations across the territory.
Heavily armed Indonesian police and soldiers stood at, and inside, polling centres. The Indonesian army’s proxy militias strolled in and out intimidating voters. In the village of Balibo, Indonesian intelligence officers directed the Halilintar (Lightning) militia and paid cash to ‘voters’ trucked in from West Timor.