Interview with Sergio Vieria de Mello
with João Pedro Fonseca, may 08, 2000
Entrevista de Sergio Vieira de Mello para o jornalista João Pedro Fonseca do Diário de Notícias de Portugal em 08-05-2000
Idioma original: Português
UNTAET’s Administrator [Sérgio Vieira de Mello] acknowledges that reconstruction in the territory is taking time but insists that major construction projects will be underway within months. In terms of security, he says Rio de Janeiro is a more dangerous city than Dili.
“I too am disappointed”
Question: Almost six months have passed since the Transitional Administration got underway: what successes and disappointments have there been so far?
Answer: First, the good aspects: Dialogue. I would go as far as to say the excellent relationship we have with the CNRT and with Xanana Gusmão in particular. So far, there has not been even the slightest disagreement or discordance. As far as decision-making is concerned, the National Consultative Council is also functioning very well. We have already adopted 17 regulations to serve as foundation stones for what we are building – a new democratic society, a state of law. Also, although we do not yet have concrete results, all the preparatory work underlying the reconstruction projects has gone smoothly. Everyone complains about how slow the process is but, unfortunately, the multilateral agencies function according to regulations that have been set by member states. We have to comply with certain rules.
Q.: Which aspects have been less successful?
A.: I would also like to mention the embryonic administration that is now operating: the judicial system, the police academy, the civil service commission, the interim health authority, and education authority, the central tax authority, the pay office.
Q.: Is all this in place already?
A.: Yes, in an embryonic state. The list is very long!
Q.: You also mentioned disappointments…
A.: I have been disappointed by what I said was inevitable – the time that this is taking. The Timorese may be frustrated and impatient, but I am too. We have done everything possible, day after day, to speed up the process. Implementing the bilateral agreements, implementing our own projects, and carrying out the World Bank and Asian Development Bank projects. This is my greatest frustration.
Q.: Has the violence disillusioned you?
A.: We have had some incidents with regards security. Not that many. We should not over-dramatise; the situation is not alarming. Dili and the country are peaceful, and it is a safer here than … in Rio de Janeiro, for example. And I should mention the fact that here, in the Dili region, things improved tremendously once the Guarda Nacional Republicana [Portuguese police force] arrived. Playing a clear, excellent, professional role, supported by the Portuguese battalion, they are highly dedicated.
Q.: So do you think the stadium incidents were localised, and are not likely to spread?
A.: I think so.
Q.: Reconstruction has been very slow. When will there be a significant leap forward in terms of building and employment?
A.: There are going to be several big leaps forward. One will be the small and medium enterprise creation project. This scheme will provide loans to Timorese wishing to start their own business in the private sector. I have been told that the BNU has already received credit applications to the tune of $US 10 million, which is double the amount available in the fund. This is a good sign. It shows that the Timorese are interested in creating small and medium enterprises, and this is vital. I am always saying that unemployment is not going to be resolved by UNTAET or through short-term (1 or 2 year duration) reconstruction projects. On the contrary, it will be the development of a private sector that will combat unemployment.
Q.: If applications were for double the amount available in the fund, does that mean that half the applicants will not get their loans, or that the fund will be increased?
A.: Half the projects will not be accepted for credit. However, colleagues from the World Bank told me that as soon as we use up the first 5 million, we can then ask for the rest. They will be rejected initially, but approved at a later stage.
Q.: What about construction work?
A.: The second significant leap is the infrastructures project: roads, electricity, water, and the port of Dili that we are going to extend. All these projects are being designed in a way that will provide the maximum number of jobs. The third big leap will be the health system reconstruction project, which will be followed by the reconstruction/re-equipment of the education system. While these projects, financed by the Asian Development Bank, are being implemented, our own reconstruction/re-equipment of public buildings programme, to be launched in June, will be underway.
Q.: Why all this time?
A.: The Timorese must understand and, in fact, do understand when we explain, that a project has to be formulated. Then it must be approved. Then comes tendering stage, which can be national or international. If it exceeds a certain financial level, then it must be international. Unfortunately, this all takes a very long time, but these are the rules by which we must abide.
Q.: So, this year, a lot of work will get underway…
A.: Of course, such as the agriculture project that is being formulated and which is one of the most promising ones.
Q.: Could Timor be self-sufficient in the primary sector?
A.: Yes, studies show that, in the medium term, Timor could be self-sufficient in agricultural produce.
Administration will progressively become Timorese
Q.: There is one question that all Timorese raise – why have Timorese not yet been recruited to work alongside UN staff in the administration?
A.: I will explain. The Public Service Commission is establishing the rules of the game. One of the most important aspects is the new salary scale. A proposal on the subject is to be presented to us this week. Then it will be discussed by the NCC and, probably, approved. Once the salary scale has been approved, we can then start the recruitment process for the new Timorese civil servants. 7,000 are to be recruited in the year 2000, and between 5,000 and 7,000 in 2001 and 2002. After that, the new Timorese administration human resources will be set up.
Q.: Where do the Timorese elite, the leaders fit into the scale?
A.: Most of the 7,000 will certainly belong to the first, second or third steps in the scale. There will be 5 steps altogether. Your question has to do with the first two steps…
Q.: The leadership…
A.: I would not say leadership; I prefer to talk about senior officials. Some have already been recruited. If you speak to our public administration colleagues, you will see that several Timorese have already been recruited and are in decision-making and supervisory positions in our administration.
Q.: How is the administration going to evolve?
A.: I make no distinction between our administration and the Timorese administration. It is a dynamic process and, gradually, the transitional administration will become the new Timorese administration. The number of Timorese will progressively increase, as the number of foreigners decreases. A month ago I announced that we would recruit Timorese deputy heads of departments in each sector of public administration in Dili. We have already begun to do this. I also said there would be deputy district administrators – all Timorese – in the 13 districts. This is also underway. Furthermore, we will create district consultative councils in which there will be greater representation of Timorese civil society than it was possible to have on the National Consultative Council, which we wanted to keep small.
Q.: Is UNTAET expecting the return of Timorese who are currently living abroad?
A.: Yes we are, but we must also be realistic. The Timorese living abroad will have higher educational qualifications, a good jobs, good salaries, and I’m not sure that it will be possible to convince them that Timor needs their collaboration, their services, their solidarity, even for one or two years.
Q.: When we talk to the Portuguese here, whether they are soldiers, police or civilians, we hear complaints about the arrogance of some Australians and other foreigners. Does UNTAET know about this and, if so, what is it doing to stop it?
A.: I must say I have not heard about it. Within UNTAET there is no discrimination between nationalities. Our policy is clear. All nationalities, whether civilian or military, must be respected.
Q.: Is the special relationship between Portuguese and Timorese contributing to the success of the transition?
A.: I believe it is. At all levels, from the visit of the [Portuguese] President, Prime Minister, MPs, etc., we have benefited considerably from that privileged, historical, cultural relationship between Portugal and Timor.
Indonesia must disband the militias Intimidation and disinformation are stopping the refugees from leaving West Timor.
Q.: The refugee repatriation process is progressing very slowly. What efforts have been made?
A.: Considerable efforts. There are many aspects to the problem. One is the political aspect. We have made several approaches to the integrationists. Xanana and other CNRT leaders have periodically established contacts with the pro-autonomy leaders. I met with the Baucau militia leader, Juanico, in January. We invited him to spend a few days here. He came, and the visit was successful. Our hope is that this kind of visit is repeated, so that the relationship between them and us improves.
Q.: Why are they the ones controlling the refugees in West Timor?
A.: We want to improve relations with the people over there who are being influenced and often misinformed by the militias. We want to help them to make the right decision, which is to return to the country. We are calling on them to take an active part in the country’s reconciliation and reconstruction process. There is still a vacant seat on the National Consultative Council: it used to be for the FPDK and is now for the UNTAS (integrationists). I reminded Domingos Soares that the seat is still unoccupied.
Q.: And what was the reply?
A.: They haven’t replied yet. But there is another problem – disinformation and intimidation. We have asked the Indonesian Government to help us demobilise and disarm the militias, who are still operating in Atambua, terrorising the refugee population. We have requested their removal to Kupang or, preferably, off the island altogether to other islands in the Indonesian archipelago. I believe they are now implementing some measures in that respect. At least that is what General Shianakri assured us.
Q.: Some refugees are said to want to return but are afraid to do so…
A.: That is a very important point. Many of those in Atambua and Kupang used to be officials in the Indonesian administration. Some are TNI, others police, but the majority were simply public servants, civilians. We have no problem with any of them, unless they have committed a crime and have blood on their hands. In that case, if they were to return they would be taken before the judges. The others are welcome – even those who have committed less serious crimes, not murder.
Q.: What are the civilians who have committed no crime afraid of then?
A.: Those who used to be public servants in the Indonesian administration are loathe to return without a guarantee that the Jakarta authorities will do what Portugal did for its former public servants, i.e. pay their pensions, compensate them for the number of years they worked in the administration, and allow them access to their accounts in Indonesian banks.
Q.: Is Jakarta prepared to do that?
A.: President Wahid has given us all assurances that it will happen – first when I was with him in Jakarta, again when he was here in February, and for a third time last March in Jakarta. However, it has been difficult to transform the President’s assurances into undertakings by the relevant ministries.
Q.: Would this enable a lot of people to return?
A.: Yes, and with the added advantage that they are people with administrative experience, which is precisely what is needed here. 185 returned in March from Kupang. It was well organised. We talked with the Falintil, because they were in the Aileu region. They returned peacefully with their families – 450 people altogether. They are fine, and this is proof that we hold nothing against those who served in the Indonesian army or police.
Falintil need UN mandate The armed wing of the Resistance should constitute the embryo of Independent Timor’s security forces
Q.: If anyone who followed the struggle of the Timorese people for the past 25 years went to Aileu and saw the frustration of the Falintil men, they would be indignant. Why is it so hard to find a solution, so that these men become part of a security force?
A.: Because it is always hard to find a solution for an armed force of this nature, a liberation force. This has been one of the weaknesses inherent in all the peace-building plans in post-colonial or post-conflict situations. It is a universal difficulty. Obviously, I do not wish to make any comparison with Sierra Leone, but it is a case I am very familiar with. One of the reasons why we are seeing that tragedy is that we did not know how to manage correctly the problem of demobilising Sierra Leone’s former armed forces.
Q.: So, is it going to be difficult to find a solution for the Falintil?
A.: In mid-March, we had a talk with Xanana, Ramos-Horta and Matan Ruak about East Timor’s defence needs and, in that context, we spoke about the future of the Falintil. Naturally, the Falintil command is not interested in just partial solutions; they want a comprehensive plan – retirement for those of a certain age, demobilisation for those who were recruited last year…but what they want, and I understand this, is that we give them guarantees of recognition of the Falintil’s past role and discipline, which was exemplary during the regrettable events of last year, and that we agree to there being a role for them in the future.
Q.: What role?
A.: Obviously, the role of creating a new East Timor security force. The problem is that the Security Council resolution that established UNTAET does not address that issue. It does not deal with the military issue, or refer to the Falintil. It does not ask us to do anything about the Falintil. We are looking into ways, with them first of all, in which we could give them such guarantees, leaving the more practical details, such as the size of the force, configuration, doctrine, etc., for later.
Q.: Does UNTAET believe that keeping the men there unoccupied for a long time could be a powder keg?
A.: Absolutely. But I must insist that we, ourselves, cannot make a decision. With the mandate I was given by the Security Council, I do not have the authority. We need to have approval from New York, i.e. approval from the Secretary General and the Council.