Subject: E Timor Wants To Start Talks For 2001 Asean Entry

Associated Press July 24, 2000

E Timor Wants To Start Talks For '01 Asean Entry

BANGKOK (AP)--East Timor wants to start talks on entry into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations - long silent on Indonesia's now-ended, bloody occupation - as early as next year, an East Timorese leader said Monday.

Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta said East Timor would discuss taking observer status in Asean as a "possible first step" to becoming a full member in consultations with member states Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore.

"I hope that as early as next year, still during the U.N. presence (in East Timor), we can begin dialogue to prepare for accession to Asean, which would happen soon after independence," he told reporters.

Ramos-Horta made the comments at the start of the 33rd annual Asean foreign ministers' meeting in Bangkok. East Timor is attending as an unofficial observer.

East Timor, which voted to break from Indonesia last year, is being administered by the U.N. for two or three years until it is ready for full statehood.

A U.N. peacekeeping mission was deployed to end violence by Indonesian troops and pro-Jakarta, anti-independence militia gangs against independence supporters after the vote.

More than 100,000 East Timorese are believed to have been killed after the Indonesian military occupied the former Portuguese colony in 1975. The occupation ended only last year, after the U.N. force took control.

Asean, which includes Indonesia, was silent on rights abuses in East Timor. The grouping, a mix of one-party regimes and democracies, avoids commenting on the internal affairs of its 10 members. Other Asean states are Brunei, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Ramos-Horta, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for his part in the East Timorese struggle for freedom, said he didn't regard Asean as complicit in the bloodshed in East Timor.

Now, East Timor is working "hand-in-hand" with the Indonesian government of President Abdurrahman Wahid and appealing to Western governments to write off Indonesia's public debt, which Ramos-Horta said was a way to stabilize democracy in the country.

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