Subject: Timor to seek membership of ASEAN, South Pacific Forum: Ramos Horta

Agence France Presse Friday, July 21, 2000, 7:21 AM, Eastern Time

Timor to seek membership of ASEAN, South Pacific Forum: Ramos Horta

BANGKOK,

East Timor will seek membership of both the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the South Pacific Forum after it gains full independence, leader Jose Ramos Horta said Friday.

He said East Timor, which is undergoing a transition to nationhood after voting last year to end 24 years of Indonesian rule, would like to join ASEAN for "geographic and strategic reasons."

But he also said that the world's newest nation has "tremendous affinities with the countries of the South Pacific, so I hope we could be able to join both."

Ramos Horta, tipped to be East Timor's foreign minister when a government is constituted after two to three years of UN supervision, said he would appeal to both organizations to allow his country to join.

He is in Bangkok as an official guest of the Thai government, which hosts the annual ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting next week.

The Nobel laureate said the issue of membership will be put to the East Timorese people in a referendum after elections for a parliament next year.

"But if we have to make a choice, I believe the people of East Timor will prefer to join ASEAN," he told reporters.

Ramos Horta has criticized ASEAN in the past, when Indonesia dominated the grouping, but Friday praised its support during the transition period.

"ASEAN countries so far have given us tremendous assistance within their limitations," he said.

Command of the UN peacekeeping forces in East Timor passed this week from the Philippines to Thailand -- both ASEAN members.

Other member nations are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore and Vietnam.

It still unclear whether East Timor's membership will be on the agenda during the ministerial meeting here.

But in February, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said ASEAN had no plans yet to accord East Timor observer status.

"When the time comes, we will talk about it. Let us not try to prepare them, let them prepare themselves," Syed Hamid said.

Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid has said he will support East Timor's entry into ASEAN should its leaders decide to apply.


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