Subject: AGE: East Timor picks young ambassador

East Timor picks young ambassador

By Jill Jolliffe


March 12 2003

East Timor has appointed its Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs to be the nation's first ambassador to Australia.

Jorge Teme, 38, who was appointed after disagreements between Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri and Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta over two previous nominations, is the youngest ambassador to Australia. Abel Guterres, a former Melbourne bus driver, will be his consul-general.

Mr Teme, who has served in the East Timor Government since October 2001, said he was looking forward to the appointment, which was formalised this week.

"Australia is a big country and I think being a small country alongside it makes representation a bit difficult. But we have common security questions and Australia has played a very important role in the security problem in East Timor," he said.

He is conscious that when he was an embattled independence activist Australian recognised Indonesian sovereignty in East Timor, but he sees the future as "the turning of a new page" in Australian-East Timorese relations.

He has a special reason to feel close to Australia. His father, Caetano Teme, who died in 1999, fought alongside Australian soldiers in World War II and was tortured by the Japanese as a result.

"Three Timorese were arrested and the other two were executed," he said. "Instead of being shot my father was publicly slapped by 50 Japanese soldiers. He used to tell me this story, crying, when he was old. Later they tortured him by putting him in hot water."

As ambassador, one of Mr Teme's principal tasks will be dealing with the complex negotiation of maritime boundaries after the signing last week of the Timor Sea Treaty.

The treaty negotiations were sometimes acrimonious, but he is determined future dealings will be smoother. "We mustn't allow the Timor Sea to be a ghost that haunts relations with Australia. We are talking about the future of a generation."

Born in the Oecussi enclave to an ardently nationalist family, Mr Teme wrote a thesis on George Orwell's Animal Farm for his English literature degree at Indonesia's Satya Wacana Christian University. He has a master's degree from New Zealand's Massey University.

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