Timor-Leste

Press briefing by SRSG at Dili Governor Palace after meeting President of Portugal

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These are near verbatim excerpts of a press briefing by SRSG Sergio Vieira de Mello at Dili Governor Palace after meeting President Jorge Sampaio of Portugal

Dili,13 February 2000
SVM: We talked about the areas of reconstruction, internal and external security, the political calendar, and the military support that Portugal is providing us since the arrival of the Portuguese contingent.

There was a convergence of analysis, and of understanding of the situation. I received, as you know, the confirmation of the Portuguese availability, an historical role, a privileged role in the materialization of the dream of this people, but also we are very much counting on the arrival of Portugal for the implementation of UNTAET mandate, which is the materialization of the result of last year's consultation August the 30.

In many areas - judicial, public works, infrastructure, education- we studied all the options we have to develop this cooperation even more, and I received from the President and his ministers the guarantee that Portugal will do everything in its power to strengthen even more this cooperation.

Q: The Portuguese frigate that is coming to replace "Vasco da Gama" is not going to be under UNTAET's command. Why is that? Any particular reason?

SVM: No. I am not an expert on military issues, but it is rare that war ships of this size integrate United Nations military operations. It will be a support ship and certainly was not requested by our HQ in New York. But as you know, the frigate "Vasco da Gama", and the frigate that is coming to replace it, have played a very important role. I was an witness of all the activities of the marine of the frigate, and I believe that the new frigate will keep the same kind of activities, although it will not be part of the our military component.

Q: What exactly will be the military cooperation of the Portuguese troops?

SVM: As you know, all Central Sector, which goes from Dili to Same, will be under Portuguese responsibility. This is an important responsibility, I would say very important, since it includes the country's capital, the airport, and the port, important roads and is one sector in which a significant percentage of the Timorese population lives.

But more than that, I would say that the configuration of the Portuguese battalion is original, is unprecedented. The Defense minister told me that from its 800 troops, this battalion has 300 official and sub-officials specialized in many areas that have more to do with the reconstruction of the infrastructure of the civil structure and the public services than with exclusive military activities.

This is extremely important. I hope that as we go forward with the implementation of our mandate, the need to deploy combat units in East Timor diminishes, and that we can enlarge our capacity to provide services to population, support in areas such as engineering, logistics, services, and medicine. And it seems that the Portuguese battalion will have the possibility to provide other services, even more specialized, in areas of public administration that will be most welcome to strength our capacity and our Governance and Public Administration pillar, which is still very weak.

Q: Is the protocol between the Portuguese state electricity company, EDP, and UNTAET concluded?

SVM: No, it's not. If is signed it will be today or tomorrow. But I don't have that precise information.

Q: Lately, education has been a frequent topic of discussion. Do you think that that will be the area in which Portugal should participate more actively, more than any other area?

SVM: One of the areas. No more than the other areas. Portugal can help us in many, many areas, certainly in the area of education. Of course, all will depend on the famous question of the language and on the timeframe of the rehabilitation of the Portuguese language in the Timorese school system. It is obvious that Portugal and other countries of Portuguese Official Language will have a primal role, a very important role to play.

Q: The development plan, the first six months plan, assumes the political decision of CNRT in support of the choice of Portuguese as the official language. Are the necessary conditions in place for that choice?

SVM: If you ask that question to my colleague in the World Bank she will tell you that the program of six months in the areas of education doesn't include the language.

It could not, because it was done between October of last year and beginning of January of this year. But it is obvious that once we are beyond the implementation phase, the problem of the language, the problem of capacitating and training new teachers, primary and secondary teachers, and the teaching of the Portuguese language, will be a very important factor in the formulation of those programs. In other words, we can not postpone this decision beyond March.

Q: And is that decision tending more to the idea defended by CNRT and the Church? Do you think that decision will be in favour of the Portuguese?

SVM: Look, I think it's unfair to ask that question to a Brazilian. Because I could be biased answering your question, couldn't I? But what is necessary is to keep in mind the past, including the recent past, the expectations of the youth educated under the Indonesia occupation, who are not responsible for what happened here and who speak and think in Bahasa Indonesian, and because of that need time to recycle, time to adapt to the concept of a new official language.

As you know, there is a great deal of anxiety between the youth of the last generation, the youth that was born and grew up under an Indonesian Administration. It is necessary to have this factor in mind, and so implement the final decision, whatever the decision will be, through the mechanism of NCC, so will receive the unanimous support of the political Timorese forces. This is the way we want to work. It is obvious that the viewpoint of the CNRT and the Catholic Church will receive the attention from UNTAET. Thank you very much.