Subject: E Timor set on joining Asean: Horta

E Timor set on joining Asean: Horta

[The Nation]

12 Nov 2002

BANGKOK: East Timor's Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta says his country is a Southeast Asian nation that hopes to become an Asean observer next year and a member of the regional grouping in 2007.

Horta said the world's newest nation's future would be tied to the region because of its geographical location, even though its ethnic majority is Micronesian. "We have made this strategic-conscience decision," he said.

In an exclusive interview with The Nation over the weekend, Horta said the Asean Secretariat had notified him that it was not possible to have dual membership of both Asean and the South Pacific Forum. East Timor has already been admitted as a special observer of the latter, which is based in the Fijian capital Suva.

As part of the preparations for joining Asean, he said, East Timor has already applied for a seat in the regionwide security group, the Asean Regional Forum (ARF), and is ready to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation.

Asean placed a moratorium on ARF membership in 2000 when North Korea was admitted at the forum's meeting in Bangkok. East Timor and Pakistan are the top candidates if Asean agrees to take in new ARF members.

East Timor attended the Asean annual meeting in Brunei in July as a guest of the Asean Standing Committee and will be present at the next meeting in Cambodia in June 2003.

But Asean still does not have a consensus for admitting East Timor, with Singapore and Burma opposed to its membership for different reasons. Singapore would like to see the new members Laos, Cambodia and Burma further integrated into the grouping first. Burma meanwhile is unhappy with the strong support East Timorese leaders have given to Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League of Democracy.

Horta - who is accompanying President Xanana Gusmao on a five-day official visit to Thailand - said he was scheduled to visit Rangoon early next year as part of a familiarisation tour. "We are becoming an Asean member. We have to play by the rules of Asean as well as [maintaining] our commitment to support for the democratic movement in Burma," he said.

Both Gusmao and Horta are friends of Suu Kyi.

Horta added that East Timor would not lecture neighbouring countries on democracy because it realised that the democratisation process was a slow one.

As an Asean observer, he said, East Timor would have time to prepare itself to join the grouping because the country needed to build its economic, political and social infrastructure. "We don't want to be a burden on Asean, and we will proceed gradually to become an Asean member," he said, adding that East Timor would in the meantime strengthen its bilateral ties with Asean countries.

East Timor became an independent nation in May, following two years of a transitional United Nations administration. -- Kavi Chongkittavorn

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