Subject: LUSA: Lisbon official sounds out Australia's aid plans

NOTE TO READERS: In reading this LUSA story, please bear in mind Charles Scheiner's recent e-mail message, responding to another LUSA story, in which he challenged the claim that 60 percent of Portugal's foreign aid budget goes to East Timor. --EH

06-10-2003 19:00:00. Notícia nº SIR-5472298 Temas: new destaque3 East Timor: Lisbon official sounds out Australia's aid plans

Canberra, Oct. 6 (Lusa) - Portugal`s state secretary for foreign affairs and cooperation, António Lourenço dos Santos, arrived in Canberra Monday for talks with senior officials on coordination of aid efforts to East Timor.

Dos Santos told Lusa he would be discussing "without preconceived notions" possible areas of collaboration between Lisbon and Canberra to ensure continued support to Timor after the withdrawal of the United Nations mission in Dili next year.

Timor continues to eat up over 60 percent of Portugal`s foreign aid budget and there have been some reports that Lisbon will be forced to reduce expenditure on its former colony, due to austerity measures needed to check Portugal's budget deficit.

"At the moment, I do not know what the (Portuguese) budget is for 2004 and therefore cannot give cast iron assurances that we will keep up the same aid effort to Timor", said dos Santos, who spent five days in Timor last week reviewing Lisbon`s development programs.

Dos Santos said it would be "ideal" to maintain Lisbon`s current spending on Timor, but it was still unclear what available funds Lisbon would have next year.

"This puts us in a very uncomfortable and difficult situation, but I believe the necessary consensus will be reached in Lisbon for us to continue with present aid levels".

Commenting on possible Australian support to Timor, the Lisbon official said that due to questions of language, Canberra is less able to participate in developing Dili`s education sector.

However, "both Australia and Japan (which he visited last week) could offer valuable backing to infrastructure development, leaving Portugal to focus on curricula and training", said dos Santos.

The Australian visit of Portugal's No. 2 diplomat lasts for two days and he is scheduled to meet senior officials from the defense, foreign affairs, and cooperation ministries, as well as Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

ASP/CJB -Lusa-

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