Subject: KY: E. Timor seeks observer status in ASEAN, ARF membership

E. Timor seeks observer status in ASEAN, ARF membership

SINGAPORE, April 25 (Kyodo) - East Timorese Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta said Thursday the fledgling country is seeking observer status in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and membership in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) security forum.

Ramos-Horta also said East Timor hopes to become a member of ASEAN in the next three to five years.

''We will be seeking in the near future observer status along the lines of Papua New Guinea,'' which is already an observer in ASEAN, he said at a luncheon in Singapore organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association in Singapore.

''We will also be seeking to be a member of the ARF...These are institutions that we can be part of immediately because there are no real financial cost implications,'' he said.

The ARF is a loose multilateral security forum initiated by ASEAN. It groups 23 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including Japan, the United States, Russia, China and India.

Ramos-Horta said it is difficult for East Timor to join ASEAN as a full member earlier due to a lack of financial and human resources.

He also commented on Myanmar's apparent opposition to East Timor's bid to join ASEAN due to its leaders' expression of support for pro-democracy figure Aung San Su Kyi.

''Yes, it seems that Myanmar has objected to us even attaining observer status,'' he said.

However, he stressed that East Timor should be admitted to ASEAN because of its geographical position in Southeast Asia.

''We will try to be discreet, pragmatic, constructive in working with the international community in general and in particular with our region,'' he said.

''We hope that we will be able to persuade our Burmese (Myanmarese) neighbor that in spite of our differences over the issues of the democracy movement in Burma and their place in Burmese society and politics, that we still can have a civilized, polite relationship,'' he said.

He said East Timor has been invited to attend the annual meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers this July in Brunei as a guest of the Brunei government.

East Timor, currently under partial U.N. administration, is to achieve full independence on May 20.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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