Portuguese Republican National Guard in Dili confined to headquarters

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

The Portuguese Republican National Guard (GNR), that arrived last Sunday at Dili, have interrupted their patrols in the streets of Dili and are now confined to their temporary headquarters.

Map of Dili and immediate surroundings.

According to a Portuguese governmental source, the GNR force is confined to its improvised headquarters in Dili, with orders from the government not to go out into the streets, due to a diplomatic block in the negotiations with Australia about the command chain.

The decision was made after a incident during the middle of the afternoon (local time), when a Republican National Guard patrol was transporting three men to a new temporary detention center, guarded by Australian troops. The Australian soldiers refused to receive the detained men, questioning the legitimacy of the Portuguese soldiers to make arrests.

At this moment, urgent negotiations are being made in New York. Portugal is waiting for President Xanana Gusmão and the Timorese government to clarify the action of the Portuguese force on the bilateral agreement signed between the two governments that guarantees operational autonomy to the Portuguese soldiers.

Contacted by SIC reporters, the spokesman of the Portuguese Foreign Ministry, Carneiro Jacinto, denied that the problem is the presence of the GNR in East Timor. Carneiro Jacinto told SIC that the case is being handled through diplomatic channels, including the United Nations, the government and the Timorese presidency. Carneiro Jacinto also said that it's necessary to clarify the case once and for all, so that situations "serious like this one" will not be repeated.

Ana Pessoa, East Timor's State Minister, told TSF News Agency that the idea that the Portuguese contingent's mission in Timor may be threatened makes no sense. She said all that is being discussed at this time is what mission the GNR force will assume in East Timor.

Last Friday (June 2) an Australian mission held a meeting with Portugal's Foreign Minister, Diogo Freitas do Amaral, who was sent to ask for clarification of the agreement signed the day before (June 1, Thursday) between Portugal and East Timor. The agreement gave the Portuguese Republican National Guard troops their own operational command, reporting directly to President Xanana Gusmão.

In a meeting on Monday (June 5) between Australian, Malaysian, New Zealand and Portuguese representatives, the four countries discussed the creation of a coordination structure, instead of an entirely Australian-led command, for the police forces working on the Timorese territory.

Beyond the 120 soldiers of the Portuguese Republican National Guard force, that arrived this Sunday to East Timor, there are 70 Australian and 200 Malaysian police officers in the country. A New Zealand police team also arrived yesterday from Auckland to negotiate their possible contributions towards policing. In addition to these police forces, the international force includes more than 2,000 Australian, New Zealand and Malaysian soldiers.

  Wikinews Australia has in-depth coverage of this issue: 2006 East Timor crisis