U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced today that the U.N.-organized Aug. 8 vote on the future of East Timor would be postponed two weeks because of security and logistical concerns.
Annan, in a report to the Security Council, did not give a specific date for the election. But U.N. officials believed the ballot, which will allow Timorese to choose between autonomy within Indonesia and independence, would be held Aug. 21 or 22.
"We have delayed it briefly, but the ballot will go ahead in the month of August and the East Timorese will have a free choice," Annan told reporters in Moscow, according to a transcript of his remarks.
Indonesian troops occupied the former Portuguese colony in 1975 and annexed it in 1976, an action never recognized by the international community. Indonesia and Portugal signed an agreement May 5 under which the balloting was scheduled for Aug. 8.
U.N. sources say the United Nations preferred the vote to be held Aug. 22, a Sunday. But Indonesia protested holding elections on a Sunday because the territory is predominantly Roman Catholic.
Annan said that registration of East Timor's estimated 400,000 voters could not begin until July 13, rather than on June 22, as planned.
Annan was due to deliver an assessment this week on whether a free and fair election could be held under current security conditions. But he said the assessment would be delayed three weeks.
"This will in turn inevitably entail a delay of the ballot date. . . . I have informed the parties to the agreements of this and they have both concurred with a two-week postponement of the ballot," Annan said.
Ensuring the voting is carried out in a secure atmosphere remains a major concern. Scores of people have been killed, mainly by anti-independence militias, after Indonesia announced in January that it was willing to reverse the annexation.