Subject: East Timor fears ASEAN membership will drain budget

East Timor fears ASEAN membership will drain budget

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug. 13 (Reuters) - Newly independent and poverty-stricken East Timor said on Tuesday it is in no hurry to join its south east Asian neighbours' trade and cooperation pact, fearing hectic rounds of meetings could bust its meagre budget.

"To be a full member of ASEAN means money," its Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri told a meeting of business executives during a five-day visit to Malaysia.

"As far as I know, there are 360 meetings in ASEAN context during a year, (one) every day," he said in reply to questions from the floor.

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

"Full membership of ASEAN means we have to open at least 10 embassies. We still have no money for this, that is why we are making a study of the costs and benefits," he added.

East Timor, one of Asia's poorest countries, is trying to develop its mainly farm-based society, though it expects revenue from oil and gas production from late 2004.

Of the six embassies it has opened to date, only those in Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta are in ASEAN states.

The impoverished country, which is keen on ASEAN observer status, wants foreign investment to help build its tiny economy after ruinous violence in 1999 when it voted for independence.

A United Nations administration ran East Timor after its citizens decided to break from 24 years of Indonesian rule, before handing over to a new government in May.

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