Subject: SMH: Give us a free hand or we quit, E.Timor leaders say

Sydney Morning Herald December 5, 2000

Give us a free hand or we quit, leaders say

By Mark Dodd, Herald Correspondent in Dili, and agencies

Just days after the reported resignation of East Timorese independence leader Xanana Gusmao from the country's National Council, four Cabinet members have threatened to quit, calling themselves "caricatures of ministers in a banana republic".

In a letter to the head of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), Sergio Vieira de Mello, who administers the former Indonesian province, ministers Joao Carrascalao, Anna Pessoa, Mari Alkatiri and Father Filomeno Jacob threatened to resign over inability to exercise their power.

The four have set a deadline of December 15 to quit should two main conditions not be met: defined legal status for the Cabinet positions and a defined relationship between the Cabinet and the UN.

"We continue to be used as a justification for the delays and the confusion in a process which is outside our control," the letter said. "The East Timorese Cabinet members are caricatures of ministers in a government of a banana republic. They have no power, no duties, no resources to function adequately."

Mr Carrascalao said the UNTAET had failed to consult the Cabinet over major decisions.

"The main thing is, we have been given ministries but no support staff, no facilities, and no power - everyone makes decisions on our behalf," Mr Carrascalao told the Herald.

"They [the UN] interfere too much in every portfolio and make all the decisions without letting us know."

Mr Carrascalao confirmed that Mr Gusmao had resigned as president of the National Council but said he had withdrawn his resignation: "Xanana resigned but now he is back again."

Mr Vieira de Mello had been told about the possible resignations and had scheduled a meeting of the Cabinet for December 9, UN spokeswoman Barbara Reis said.

"The concerns are legitimate and the frustrations are legitimate ... but we didn't expect this letter," Ms Reis said.

Established by the UNTAET, the 36-member National Council serves as East Timor's de facto parliament, representing a cross-section of Timorese society.

It debates legislation proposed by the eight-person Transitional Cabinet, although ultimate executive power is held by Mr Vieira de Mello, who is in Brussels and will not return to Dili until Thursday.

The threat of resignation has been used often as a political tool in East Timor. During the congress of the major political umbrella group, the National Council of Timorese Resistance, its president Mr Gusmao - the man most likely to be the first elected president of East Timor - and his deputy, Jose Ramos-Horta, quit their posts twice.

Mr Carrascalao has also called for land reform in East Timor, saying the UN had not done enough to acknowledge the Timorese as the traditional owners of land.

He has accused Indonesians in the West Timor capital of Kupang of continuing to hold property in Dili that belonged to Timorese.

Indonesia ruled East Timor until its people voted overwhelmingly for freedom in a UN-sponsored referendum late last year. The UN is overseeing the territory's transition to independence.

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