|Subject: Portugal awards Annan top honour
for role in E. Timor independence
Portugal awards Annan top honour for role in East Timor independence
LISBON, Oct. 11 (AFP) - Portugal's President Jorge Sampaio awarded United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan one of the nation's highest honours in recognition of his work on behalf of liberty, especially for his efforts in East Timor's independence process.
Sampaio personally hung the Grand Collar of the Order of Liberty on Annan at a ceremony held in the 19th century Ajuda palace which houses Portugal's foreign ministry. The award is usually granted only to heads of state.
"I am moved and humbled on receiving this honour. I know it is an exceptional one," said Annan.
It is Annan's first official visit to Portugal. He will also receive an honorary doctorate from Lisbon's Universidade Nova during a two-day stay which wraps up on Wednesday.
Former Portuguese colony East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence after 23 years of rule by neighbouring Indonesia in a UN-backed referendum held in August 1999.
In honoring Annan, Sampaio said: "I remember the strength you showed in the critical moments that followed the announcement of the referendum of August 1999 and the support that you gave for the creation of a multinational peacekeeping force which brought stability to the territory."
Militias -- organised and armed by the Indonesian military -- waged a savage intimidation campaign before the referendum, and a revenge campaign afterwards.
An estimated 1,000 people were killed over the course of the year. Whole towns were burnt to the ground and about 250,000 East Timorese fled or were forced into West Timor after the vote. Most have now returned.
The territory finally gained independence in May 2002 after a period of UN stewardship.
Annan offered strong support for the referendum as well as for the peacekeeping missions that followed.
Earlier on Tuesday he met with Portuguese Foreign Minister Diogo Freitas do Amaral and is scheduled to hold talks with Portugese Prime Minister Jose Socrates on Wednesday.