Byline: Isabel Braga
Date: 12 December 2000
Pedro Bacelar de Vasconcelos apprehensive as he departs Dili
The resignation of Portuguese constitutionalist Pedro Bacelar de Vasconcelos, tendered on Saturday to the UN transitory administrator in East Timor, was accepted yesterday after a long meeting with SRSG Sérgio Vieira de Mello. Pedro Bacelar, who has been second in command of the Political, Constitutional and Electoral Affairs Department, explained that his resignation had to do with his "profound differences" with the Department Head, US diplomat Peter Galbraith.
Speaking to Público, Pedro Bacelar said that at the root of the problem was "the Department Head's support for strategies that tend to place the Timorese, or mainly Timorese, political structures, created by UNTAET itself, on a secondary level". "At this stage of the process, it is essential that the Timorese are genuinely involved, and that this involvement focuses on the institutions in which they are represented", said the Portuguese constitutionalist, who held the most important post within the UN structure in the territory.
Sérgio Vieira de Mello wanted Pedro Bacelar de Vasconcelos to remain in his post until the return, in mid-January, of Peter Galbraith, who is currently on holiday. Before going on leave, Peter Galbraith had selected another official in the Department (Canadian Colin Stewart) to substitute him during his absence, thus passing over the head of Pedro Bacelar. The latter did not agree to the SRSG's request to stay on, however. "It did not make sense for me to carry on working until the Department Head returned to Dili and everything was back to the way it was", he said. His intention is to go back to Portugal "on the first flight out after the weekend". He is not leaving immediately for "reasons connected with administrative law, as it would mean abandoning one's post".
Pedro Bacelar accuses the Head of Political, Constitutional and Electoral Affairs Department - the unit responsible for preparing the political transition calendar in the territory, including the electoral and constitutional process already underway - of "deferring" measures, such as the civic education programme that ought to have started in September and that "will not now be launched before January". "This programme is vitally important because the Timorese are extremely anxious about the future: they know nothing about the workings of representative democracy; they need to learn what political parties are and how they work; they need things to be clarified. The programme, however, was violently opposed and shelved by the Department Head [Peter Galbraith]", he explained. Another factor closely connected to his resignation has to do with the law governing political parties: "It has not been decided whether integrationist parties will be allowed in the elections. The political courage to deal with this question is lacking", he said. Finally, the electoral law, which involves discussion of criteria for choosing between the various possible electoral systems, "has not even begun to be prepared".
"It is inadmissible that the key person responsible for what is at the very heart of the entire transition process simply goes off on holiday for a month and a half", said the Portuguese jurist who, yesterday morning, gave Xanana Gusmão his reasons for leaving. "My reasons were passed on to the Timorese, and they understood them", said Bacelar de Vasconcelos, who is leaving Timor fairly pessimistically: "If I talk about a threat of civil war, it will be regarded as melodramatic, but the violence is increasing by the week, while there is a degree of impotence on the part of the organizations at the forefront of the process, which could be being implemented in an exemplary way but which, in fact, is not."