Subject: AP: East Timor's new ambassador a Louisiana native

East Timor's new ambassador a Louisiana native

11/28/2002 02:31:52

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) _ The first U.S. ambassador to the newly independent nation of East Timor will be sworn in Monday in front of proud family members from his home state of Louisiana.

Grover Joseph Rees III, 51, will be sworn in by Secretary of State Colin Powell at noon at the State Department in Washington, D.C. Rees will leave Tuesday for his new post in the Indonesian island chain.

``A lot of the family is going up to Washington for the ceremony,'' Rees' mother Patricia said.

``Joseph has been a federal judge, a law professor and has held various government jobs, but he's really excited about this one because East Timor has undergone so much upheaval and he wants to help the country heal and grow.''

Speaking from his office in Washington, where he is chief counsel for the House International Relations Committee, Rees said human rights has always been of special interest to him. He served as general counsel for the Immigration and Naturalization Service from 1991 to 1993 and has been following East Timor's progress for a number of years, Rees said.

``It's a country rising from the ashes,'' he said. Rees said he visited the island in 1996, while it was struggling with the issue of self-determination after 20 years of brutal oppression by Indonesia, and in 2000, a few months after a vote for independence.

``It was nothing but smoking ruins, but now there's a democratically elected president and parliament. Now there is hope,'' he said.

The new system of government ``is an experiment in an area of the world that for the most part has not embraced democratic forms of government... It's like being at ground zero during the birth of a nation, like being in Boston in 1776,'' he said.

Patricia Rees said her son has always been passionate about standing up for the rights of oppressed people. Although he went to work for the INS under former President Bush, he agreed to stay on after Clinton took office, she said.

``But when Clinton turned back a boatload of Chinese refugees in California and sent them back to China, the president had Joseph's resignation on his desk the next day,'' she said.

Rees said he will travel back from East Timor to Washington in January to tie up some loose ends from his current position. He plans to stop off in Acadiana to visit family and friends, including his father, a retired Marine Corps pilot and investment counselor who also lives in Lafayette, and his grandmother, Consuelo Broussard Rees, 101, who lives in Breaux Bridge.

``I was born in New Orleans and grew up all over the place because my father was in the military, but we spent lots of summers in Breaux Bridge at my grandparents' home,'' he said. ``When I retire, it'll be either in Lafayette or Breaux Bridge. I've been all over the world, but those are still my favorite places.''

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