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Row in East Timor over leaked UN report

ABC Radio Australia - May 18, 2011

It was never meant to be seen outside of a UN retreat... but now a very critical assessment of East Timor's national institutions has surfaced, causing anger in the government.

Perhaps most controversially, the UN report said that by the end of 2012, a consolidation of power in the hands of the Prime Minister may undermine the role of the Parliament and rule of law.

Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao has rejected the report and the UN Mission in East Timor has been quick to distance itself from the leaked document, saying it was just one assessment of Timor Leste's situation. But the spat comes at a sensitive time.

Reporter: Liam Cochrane

Speakers: Xanana Gusmao, prime minister, East Timor; Dionisio Babo Soares, General Secretary, National Congress for the Reconstruction of East Timor (CNRT); Martinho Gusmao, Catholic priest and election commissioner; Gyorgy Kakuk, spokesman for the UN Integrated Mission In East Timor (UNMIT); Mari Alkatiri, former Prime Minister and Secretary General of the FRETLIN party

Cochrane: At a seminar in central Dili, university students, government officials, diplomats and foreign aid workers gathered to hear East Timor's leaders discuss the country's progress since independence and the challenges ahead. And it was those challenges as described in a leaked UN report that soon became a hot issue for Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao. The document was a slide show presentation on sustainable democratic governance dated 24th January and meant for participants at a UN retreat. But somehow it leaked and was published in the influential weekly newspaper, Tempo Semanal. Among the litany of state failings it outlined was the comment that more and more power is being consolidated with the prime minister, saying this may undermine the role of the parliament and the courts.

After the seminar, the prime minister wasn't keen to talk to foreign media, preferring to focus on the UN leaks.

Cochrane: Is it possible to get a few minutes to speak to you about apparently you had some strong criticisms of the UN?

Prime Minister Gusmao: I already talk. They also have a strong criticism.

Cochrane: Would you like to tell us about them?

Prime Minister Gusmao: No, no.

Cochrane: OK, thank you for your time.

Prime Minister Gusmao: They had leaks, you can go there.

Cochrane: They had leaks?

Prime Minister Gusmao: Yeah.

Cochrane: Whose leaking what?

Prime Minister Gusmao: UN, UN, UN, just go to UN.

Cochrane: However, General Secretary of CNRT, the National Congress for The Reconstruction of East Timor, Dionisio Babo Soares spoke on behalf of Xanana Gusmao's party.

Soares: Well, I think it's not only the prime minister, but I think the Timorese as a whole and myself representing the party, we consider it a personal attack on the prime minister. I mean how could the UN who's been here working with the prime minister for this long and we have built a very strong relations and even I would say emotional attachments, long hours and suddenly have to come up with a report like that and it's almost insulting the prime minister as if he's the main objection to democratic process in this country. So this is I think it is a blatant or almost disrespectful attack on the prime minister and this should be corrected. I think the UN should review entirely the structure of its organisation in the country and we need someone who could cooperate with the Timorese government to help this country to step out from this phase of the development to another phase.

Cochrane: What do you mean specifically by restructuring the UN in this country, what do you mean?

Soares: I think I'm very disappointed. If this report is true, I don't think this government or the Timorese people is in a position to work with the current structure of the UN in this country. I mean it needs to be reviewed completely.

Cochrane: From reading the report, you get the impression that once the UN leaves the country is going to fall apart in many ways. Can I get your response on that?

Soares: Eh, I think it is an over exaggerated statement. If I don't want to say it's bullshit.

Cochrane: Catholic priest and Election Commissioner, Martinho Gusmao, was not surprisingly a little more diplomatic in his response to the leaked UN assessment.

Martinho Gusmao: Well, this is what in this moment I think has corrupted buildings. International committee works in Timor Leste for about 12 years, since '99 up to this time. My question is that for this long time, what happened to us that we remain the fragile state and I think you are responsible for that.

Cochrane: So you think that's more, the report reflects a failing of the UN?

Martinho Gusmao: They never recognise that, this is amazing that they say that this is fragile state and they don't aware that they are part of this fragility and they cause this fragility.

Cochrane: Spokesman for the UN mission in East Timor, Georgy Kakuk, said the leaked document was one perspective discussed by senior UN leaders, but is not UNMIT's official assessment of East Timor's situation.

Kakuk: UNMIT's staff and consultants produce many internal briefing papers and analysies that do not always represent the views of the UN or the mission's leadership. These papers help us share and consider different perspectives. The presentation referred to by Tempo Semanal is one such document and it does not reflect the views of the mission and its leaders and we have strong and effective channels for communicating our views and concerns directly to the government of Timor Leste and we do so regularly.

Cochrane: Back at the seminar, the UN report was actually bringing two old political foes closer together, former prime minister Mari Alkatiri from the Fretilin Party was finding common ground with Xanana Gusmao, saying in his time he was criticised for not moving the country forward and now it's Mr Gusmao's turn to face the heat.

But Mari Alkatiri also said East Timorese politics is maturing, saying he used to consider Xanaha Gusmao a political enemy, but now sees him as a political adversary.

It may sound like semantics, but the presence of the former prime minister, the current prime minister and the President, Joseph Ramos Horta all on stage together, urging cooperation and peaceful politics is seen as a positive sign for the elections next year.