Subject: JP: RI asked to set up language center in East Timor

Jakarta Post

June 12, 2003

RI asked to set up language center in East Timor

JAKARTA (JP): East Timor has invited Indonesia to set up a library and a cultural center as part of the two countries' efforts at widening bilateral relations into cultural areas, underpinning the widespread usage of the Indonesian language among the population.

Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri however stressed that in spite of the popularity of Bahasa Indonesia among his own people, his government would still insist on using Portuguese as the medium of teaching at schools in newly independent East Timor.

Alkatiri ended on Thursday his working visit to Indonesia to discuss ways of strengthening bilateral relations as well as addressing outstanding issues left behind following the East Timor separation from Indonesia in 1999.

"We have proposed to Indonesia to set up an institute on the Indonesian language in Dili, perhaps a library or a cultural center," Alkatiri said during a meeting with Indonesian editors.

He admitted that the Indonesian language would remain widely used, noting that some 2,000 East Timorese were currently studying at Indonesian universities.

The East Timor proposal was one of several items discussed by officials of the two governments during his three-day visit.

The constitution of East Timor puts Portuguese and Tetum (the local dialect) as its official languages, but the government also recognizes Indonesian and English as working languages.

The abrupt change from Bahasa Indonesia, the language used when East Timor was ruled from Jakarta between 1975 and 1999, to Portuguese has reportedly caused problems among children. Dili has flown in Portuguese teachers to help with the change.

Alkatiri, who spent his years in exile in Mozambique before returning to his country in 1999, admitted that it was easier to learn Bahasa Indonesia than Portuguese, and that there were some resistance among East Timorese against learning Portuguese.

Portugal ruled East Timor for over 400 years until 1975.

Alkatiri said the government's decision to use Portuguese as the national language was grounded on historical as well as strategic reasons.

"For a small country, in order to survive, we have to be different, we must not become simply an extension of another country," he said.

Asked whether he was only making his country an extension of Lisbon, he said Portugal was a long distant away from East Timor.

"We're not looking to kill Bahasa Indonesia," he said.

"Five to 10 years from now, we will reintroduce Bahasa Indonesia at our primary schools."

"Bahasa Melayu, I think it's better to talk about Bahasa Melayu (instead of Bahasa Indonesia), will be the lingua-franca of this region," he said.

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