Subject: Transcript/E. Timor: Last Portuguese Governor Admits Failings

Radio Australia December 18, 2003 -transcript-

East Timor: Admission from last Portuguese Governor

As East Timor continues to delve into its painful past, there's been a suprising confession from Timor's last European governor. During this week's final hearings at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Major General Mario Lemos Pires publically admitted that Portugal failed to prepare the former territory for democracy.

Presenter/Interviewer: James Panichi

Speakers: James Dunn, former Australian consul to Timor; Major General Mario Lemos Pires; Jose Ramos Horta, former Secretary General of Fretilin's Political Committee.


ANNOUNCER: "The latest report from the Portuguese colony of Timor say that widespread fighting's broken out between the rival nationalist groups Fretilin and the Timorese Democratic Union, the UDT. The UDT still controls the radio station..."

JOURNALIST: "Will you want to go back to Timor when the fighting's over?"

ANNOUNCER: "Never more. Because all I have is lost. Timor is finished for me. And I think Timor is finished for every Timorese."

RAMOS HORTA: "I have appealed to both sides for them to sit down and talk. If they don't take any notice, I believe we are going to have endless and unneccessary bloodshed."

PANICHI: The voice of Jose Ramos Horta, who today is East Timor's Foreign Minister.

But at the time of that report, he was the Secretary General of Fretilin's political committee, and was in Australia when fighting broke out.

Mr Ramos Horta was one of many high-profile East Timorese political figures who testified at this week's Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing.

The forum heard evidence relating to events between 1974 and 1976 - the years which marked the bitter civil war which broke out in the wake of Portugal's sudden withdrawal.

James Dunn was Australian consul in the colony between 1962 and 1964, and was visting Dili at the height of the 1975 tension.

He attended this week's hearing as an "expert witness".

DUNN: "What has been interesting is the way a number of victims have come forward with extraordinarily generous statement of their position. Such as one former [pro-Indonesian party] APODETI man who was taken captive and beaten, many of his friends killed.

"And the Indonesians caught one of the people who beat him and told him that he was now able to kill him.

"He told us he sat and thought about it for a while and walked up and threw his arms around him, and embraced him. That brought the house down."

PANICHI: Mr Dunn concedes some of the testimony may have been politically self-serving.

However, he says the four-day hearing was a positive first step in the process of reconciliation.

ANNOUNCER: "The Portuguese administration in Dili slipped out of the harbour under darkness this morning. As the fighting intensified, Governor Lemos Pires made repeated calls for help, saying his position was becoming untenable."

PANICHI: The governor mentioned in that 1975 radio report is Major General Mario Lemos Pires.

He had been appointed by the Portuguese government to usher the colony towards democracy, as quickly as possible.

In what amounted to a remarkably frank deposition, Major Lemos Pires admitted Portugal was at the time still smarting from the effects of its 1974 revolution.

As a result, the government lacked the political will to undertake a more responsible approach to decolonisation.

LEMOS PIRES: "We were so much more worried about what happened in Portugal than what happened in Timor.

"For example, they couldn't despense forces - in good condition and with good will - to go to Timor to ensure security there.

"At the same time, for instance, we had no ambassador in Jakarta - and that was a very important post for us.

"And the political credibility of Portugal at that time was so low."

PANICHI: "In a satellite link from Portugal, Major Lemos Pires told the commission his government had left him without support in managing the process of decolonisation.

That lack of military presence led to his overnight retreat to the island of Atauro on August 27, 1975, in which he abandoned Dili to what later proved a particularly bloody civil war.

And in December 1975, the Indonesian army invaded East Timor - an occupation which lasted until 1999.

It's not surprising, therefore, that the commission was keen to hear Major Lemos Pires's interpretation of events.

LEMOS PIRES: "Of course, if Portugal was prepared and had the force and political respect at that moment, we could have done better.

"The problem was that I became alone in that moment. Portugal forgot East Timor because on the one hand it was the revolution, on the other it was African decolonisation, and so many Portuguese there in such bad conditions."

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