Subject: DPA: Portuguese Prez in Dili

Deutsche Presse-Agentur February 12, 2000, Monday, BC Cycle First-ever visit of a Portuguese president to East Timor


The air was thick with nostalgia as the Portuguese anthem was played for the first time in Dili since 1975 to welcome the arrival on Saturday of Jorge Sampaio, the President of Portugal.

During 400 years of Portuguese rule and neglect, East Timor was an obscure and faraway colony that had never merited any visits from Lisbon's leaders.

On his arrival at Dili airport President Sampaio declared: "I am from a Portugal that is looking forward to future relations, to contribute to international efforts to rebuild East Timor in cooperation with CNRT (the Timorese Resistance) and the U.N."

The Portuguese government pledged 56 million dollars aid at the Tokyo donors conference that will be disbursed over a three-year period with 22.5 million dollars earmarked for the year 2000, a commitment second only to Japan's contribution to East Timor's reconstruction.

The first main ceremony on Saturday occurred in front of the governor's palace, which had been the Portuguese colonial headquarters until 1975.

Resistance leader and independence hero Xanana Gusmao welcomed the Portuguese head of state in front of a rally of more than 3,000 Timorese.

Much of the security was provided by Portuguese police serving in the U.N. interim government known as UNTAET. A Portuguese warship, the Vasco Da Gama, was clearly visible moored just off the seashore, adding to a nostalgic sense that the Portuguese had returned.

In fact Portuguese forces have returned, but not as colonial plunderers but wearing the blue berets of the U.N. peacekeeping forces in East Timor.

A full batallion of 760 Portuguese soldiers are under the U.N. command in the capital Dili, one of more than 12 nations participating in the peacekeeping operation.

The Timorese Liberation Movement (CNRT) have made it clear that the Portuguese are especially welcome. CNRT President Gusmao reaffirmed on Saturday that the Portuguese language "is part of our national identity and culture" and thanked the Portuguese president for Lisbon's support for East Timor during the 24 years of Indonesian occupation.

After 1975, Portugal was the only country that lobbied the world to honour U.N. resolutions on self-determination for East Timor, and supported the armed resistance of Falintil.

However the militant student organisations did not turn out to welcome the Portuguese visit. Student leader Francisco Dionesio of Impettu said: "We may make a protest against the attempt to force the Portuguese language on us. It is too hard to study Portuguese. It is better to adopt English or Tetum (the native tongue) as our official language."

President Sampaio made an emotional address: "I pay homage to the determination and courage of Timorese people. I pay homage to all those who have died fighting for your rights. I salute Xanana Gusmao. My friends I give you all a big, big hug, I embrace your hopes and dreams, and we will support in reconstructing your homeland of Loro Sae (East Timor)." 

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