Subject: KY: Australia welcomes Timor progress, pledges assistance


May 20, 2003 Tuesday

Australia welcomes E. Timor progress, pledges assistance


Australian Prime Minister John Howard congratulated East Timor on its first anniversary of independence Tuesday and pledged 'Australia's ongoing assistance' in the development of the world's newest country.

'Remarkable progress has been made by the new nation over these 12 months,' Howard said.

'The essential work of nation-building and other development tasks are well under way and I congratulate the government and people of East Timor for these significant achievements to date,' he said in a statement.

East Timor was ruled by the United Nations for three years prior to its 2002 independence, which followed a vote by its people to be free from Indonesia which had ruled the country since colonial Portugal left in 1975. About 1,000 East Timorese were killed by Indonesian troops and their militia after the independence vote in 1999.

'We remain at the forefront of international support for East Timor through our participation in the U.N. mission and as a major development assistance partner,' Howard said.

On Monday, the U.N. extended its 3,800-troop peacekeeping force in East Timor for a final year. The Australian Defense Force has 1,000 troops deployed in the mission.

In March, after months of standoff, Australia and East Timor signed a A$50 billion (US$30.69 billion) treaty for the development of oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea between the two countries.

And Foreign Minister Alexander Downer denied reports that East Timor had been bullied by Australia into signing the deal.

East Timor President Xanana Gusmao, a 56-year-old former freedom fighter, has said the country is on the right path but is facing difficulties. He blamed the country's struggling economy on looting and arson last December that killed two people.

In March, Gusmao visited Australia where he urged the government to allow 1,600 East Timorese asylum seekers, which fled their homeland after a massacre in the capital Dili in 1991, to remain in Australia.

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