Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey: Portugal to leave NATO peace missions?

The financial strain of maintaining an active military force in Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor is too much for Portugal. It is even rumoured that there is a rupture in the budget for the Armed Forces. The answer could be an early exit from Bosnia and Kosovo. One thing is certain : East Timor is the priority for Portugal and its continuation with a military presence there is unquestionable. A former Portuguese colony, East Timor was invaded by the Indonesian Army in 1975, with the consent of the then US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. The East Timor question is an integral part of Portugal’s history. It was Portugal who fought in the UNO for East Timor’s independence from the fascist military dictatorship of Jakarta and it is now Portugal who is supplying the education system and teachers for the new state. Portuguese is to become the official language in Timor. This extra strain on Portugal’s limited resources means that its role in NATO missions in Bosnia and Kosovo is put in question. According to Prime Minister Antуnio Guterres: “ It is obvious that since Timor is a priority, we are calculating what our degree of involvement will be in different scenarios for next year.” He stated that Portugal had to act “in accordance with its dimension and economic situation” and to weigh up carefully the possibility of participation “in external actions which are extremely expensive”. Public opinion in Portugal was never in favour of NATO’s campaign against Yugoslavia, considering that the question of Kosovo was (and is) an internal matter to be resolved between the authorities in Belgrade and the local Kosovar Albanian community, since Kosovo is, under international law, part of the Sovereign State of Yugoslavia. The Mayor of Lisbon, Joгo Soares, went to visit the Mayor of Belgrade during NATO’s campaign, to show Portuguese solidarity with the people of Belgrade. It will be remembered that independent sources state that at least 500 civilians were killed by NATO bombs and missiles during the campaign.

Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey, Correspondent of PRAVDA.Ru Lissabon 2000-12-28