PORTUGAL: DECISION TO LEAVE KOSOVO CAUSES SHOCKWAVES

As the Portuguese government presents a proposal to the National Defence Council to take Portuguese troops out of NATO missions in Kosovo, the Army generals and political parties react. With Portugal’s increasing involvement in East Timor, this small country does not have the financial capacity to support costly activities with NATO missions. Furthermore, and fundamentally, Portuguese public opinion is not in favour of Portugal’s involvement in military missions in the Balkans but is firmly behind Portugal’s involvement in its former colony of East Timor, now called Timor Loro Sae (The Land of the Rising Sun). Antуnio Guterres, the Portuguese Prime Minister, announced this week that the government will present a proposal to the National Defence Council in October to withdraw Portuguese forces in Kosovo by March. The contingent will not be replaced. Army Reacts The reaction from the army generals was to be expected – a preference for active campaigns as opposed to office work! “It is humiliating.l It is a shame that no effort has been made in recent years to make structural adaptations. How is it possible that a country with 45,000 professionals in its armed forces is incapable of supporting 1,500 men overseas?” stormed Admiral Fuzeta da Ponte, ex-Chief of the Armed Forces. NATO allies furious with Portugal The admiral remembered that when Portugal had refused to take part in the Gulf War against Iraq, in 1991, Portugal’s NATO allies were furious. “ They looked at us with scorn. This marginalized us for a long time in the (NATO) alliance.” Political shockwaves The main opposition party, PSD (Social Democrats)called the Defence Minister, Castro Caldas and the Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr. Jaime Gama, to Parliament to explain whether this was a financial necessity or a change in external policy. Neither of the Ministers appeared and their offices are delaying an appearance before parliament. Reading between the lines, we should not forget that before becoming the Defence Minister, Castro Caldas made a public statement in the quality daily newspaper, “Pъblico”, criticising NATO’s actions in Kosovo as being a violation of the United Nations Charter and stating that Portugal’s participation was illegal under the Portuguese constitution. Supporters of the PSD (centre-right) and the PP, Popular Party (Conservatives) are in favour of NATO’s aggressive intervention in the Balkans. To the political left, the Communust Party (PCP) will rejoice at the Socialist government’s initiative because, as Joгo Amaral, a leading figure in the party, pointed out, the PCP was always against NATO’s campaign. “It is our firm conviction that Portuguese forces should cease operations in Kosovo”. Portugal begins to emerge from the mists which have hidden it from the world for the greater part of a century and affirms itself as a nation which has its own policy, willing to follow its own ideas. The age-old question, as always is how much autonomy Portugal’s financial dependence on larger and more powerful countries will allow the country to have.

Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY Correspondent of PRAVDA.Ru Lissabon