Subject: LUSA: ASEAN Observer Status Enough for Benefits at Low Cost - Ramos Horta

20 Jul 01 11:17 East Timor: ASEAN Observer Status Enough for Benefits at Low Cost - Ramos Horta

East Timor should maintain observer status in the Southeast Asia's ASEAN bloc for some years after achieving independence to bring it benefits at reduced costs, the territory's foreign minister, Jose Ramos Horta, said Friday.

ASEAN "membership would not only mean Timorese diplomatic involvement, but also commercial, economic, environmental, educational, technological and other themes - a very vast agenda", Ramos Horta told Lusa before departing for Hanoi to attend an ASEAN ministerial meeting.

"Observer status would allow us the benefits of having one foot inside ASEAN, attending the meetings we choose and continuing to develop bilateral ties, without the financial costs, which are great for a small country like East Timor", he added.

Ramos Horta estimated that full ASEAN membership would cost Dili more than USD 1 million yearly, taking into account the requirement to open embassies in all member states.

There appeared to be a "consensus" among the Timorese leadership, he added, that the country should join the pivotal regional organization, where it currently has "special guest" status, in the future.

Beyond participating in the ASEAN meeting Monday, Ramos Horta, who will be joined in Hanoi by UN administrator Sergio Vieira de Mello and independence leader Xanana Gusmao, said bilateral contacts were planned with China, New Zealand and Belgium, the current head of the European Union.

The Hanoi encounter would also serve to give newly formed Timorese diplomats exposure to the regional body, he stressed.

From the Vietnamese capital, Ramos Horta and Vieira de Mello will travel to New York to attend an open UN Security Council session on East Timor July 30.

On Aug. 6, Dili's senior diplomat, a Nobel Peace prize laureate, will go to California to receive Hollywood's award for humanitarian service.

SAS -Lusa-

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