Subject: FT: East Timor seeks Asean entry

Financial Times July 24, 2000

East Timor seeks Asean entry

By Hugh Williamson and Amy Kazmin in Bangkok

East Timor's political leaders on Monday called for closer ties with South-east Asia, saying these would be the most important means of ensuring the territory's future security.

East Timor also intends to join the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) at the earliest opportunity, they said.

The comments came in a Financial Times interview with Xanana Gusmao, East Timor's independence leader; Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta; Mario Carrascalao, a vice-president of East Timor's independence movement, known as the CNRT; and Sergio Vieira de Mello, United Nations' Under-Secretary-General and head of the UN's transitional administration in East Timor (UNTAET)

Mr Ramos-Horta said: "Our message is clear: we want more Asean engagement in the process of reconstruction" in East Timor.

Good foreign relations "in this very sensitive area of the world" were "the best guarantee of future peace" for the territory, he added.

Mr Gusmao said he is not seeking financial support from the region, because it is still recovering from the financial crisis. "Not asking (for money) is a form of co-operation with them on our part" he said.

He noted, however that Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines are all already providing support in peacekeeping, reconstruction or training.

The leaders, grouped as an UNTAET delegation, are observers at the ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Bangkok, and are holding four days of bilateral meetings to improve contacts with neighbouring countries, including Indonesia.

Their debut presence in an Asean forum marks a "remarkable turn-around" Mr Ramos-Horta said. In the period after East Timor's vote for independence in August 1999, most Asean countries sided with Indonesia, the group's biggest member, straining relations with the CNRT leadership.

Mr. Ramos-Horta, the CNRT's key international envoy, said the delegation was "laying the groundwork" for Asean membership.

A decision to apply would be taken after the formation of a constitutional assembly next year, he said.

He said Asean membership was more important than joining the South Pacific Forum, East Timor's other regional option.

He hoped that, despite joining Asean, East Timor would qualify for trade privileges from the European Union under the Lome convention. In Asia, the privileges only apply to pacific nations.

"The trick is to get into Asean and use our good connections in the EU to make an exception on the Lome convention," he said.

Mr de Mello said there was a need for a "sensitisation campaign" in the broader international donor community on East Timor's financial needs, in particular to support the budget of the territory.

Only $17m of this year's $60m budget will be generated from local taxes and duties, he said.

The EU, Japan, the US, Portugal and Australia had pledged to help make up the difference this year, but "we can't take such budget support for granted in the future, which could be a problem," he said.

The budget support is in addition to the $522m that donors promised last December for humanitarian aid and reconstruction.

Recruitment of a new civil service started last month, but Mr Carrascalao, a former governor of East Timor under Indonesian rule, admitted the territory could only afford 13,000 civil servants, about one-third of the total under Jakarta's rule.

Commenting on reports of divisions within the CNRT, Mr Gusmao admitted after the independence movement's "victory around one single objective, unity has diluted itself and diverging interests have emerged".

He said this would not disrupt a key CNRT congress next month on a new constitution, political parties and elections.

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