Subject: AP: Don't make monkeys of us, screech bureaucrats

Don't make monkeys of us, screech bureaucrats

March 18 2004 at 09:18AM

Associated Press

By Guido Guillart

Dili, East Timor - An American group said on Thursday it cancelled plans to distribute a children's book on democracy in East Timor, after the country's leaders complained that the illustrations portrayed them as monkeys.

Faty And Noi's Adventure To Parliament was released on Saturday at a school with little fanfare by the International Republican Institute (or IRI) as part of a campaign to teach children about the workings of government.

The group said it meant no offence. But within days, East Timor's president, parliamentary speaker and prime minister expressed outrage that all characters in the book were monkeys, including four of them standing outside the presidential palace.

'No matter if our people are good looking or ugly, they should be portrayed as humans' "This is definitely an effort to humiliate us because all East Timorese leaders in this book are portrayed as monkeys," said Francisco Guterres Lu-Olo, the head of the country's parliament.

"We may be a small country with many poor people but we still have our dignity," he said. "I will do everything to prevent the International Republican Institute from distributing this book."

The institute is the international branch of the US Republican Party of President George Bush and is dedicated to fostering democracy around the world.

At a news conference on Wednesday, President Xanana Gusmao praised the effort to teach children about democracy, but said that using animals to portray East Timor's leaders was poorly conceived.

"No matter if our people are good looking or ugly, they should be portrayed as humans, not animals," Gusmao said.

'We may be a small country with many poor people but we still have our dignity' Deborah White, the director of IRI in East Timor, said the group was "surprised and disappointed" by the controversy because the illustrations had been viewed and approved beforehand by the country's leadership.

The only animal ruled out in discussions with the government, she said, was a crocodile which is the country's national symbol. Monkeys were settled on, she said, over lions, water buffaloes and chickens because children could better relate to them.

"We had the impression from months of consultation that this was an illustration that would entertain kids and educate them about the way their government works," she said. "We never intended to offend the people of East Timor. We apologise but we are standing by the process we went through to consult and develop the book."

Gusmao publicly acknowledged that he had seen the book beforehand but said he didn't look at it carefully enough to notice the illustrations. The parliamentary head claims to have never seen the book before its issue, saying only his deputy did. It was not immediately possible to reach Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri for comment.

IRI had planned to distribute 5 000 copies of the book across the country at a cost of $15 000 (about R100 000), White said. The book is similar to one used in the US by other educational groups, though the characters there are mice not monkeys, she said. - Sapa-AP

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