Subject: AFP: E Timor unhappy to wait one more year to join regional security forum

July 01, 2004

East Timor unhappy to wait one more year to join regional security forum

JAKARTA (AFP): East Timor is unhappy it will have to wait at least another year to join a 23-member regional security forum, the foreign minister of Asia's newest nation said on Thursday.

East Timor can become a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in 2005 at the earliest because the group handles applications on a case-by-case basis and Pakistan will be admitted at Friday's annual ARF meeting in Jakarta.

"I would have preferred that we join this year and I'm not very pleased that no action was taken for East Timor to join ARF," Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta told AFP.

"After all, we qualify more than any other country, like Pakistan or others, in joining ARF, because we are a Southeast Asian country. We believe East Timor should have joined even last year," he said.

The 10-year-old ARF includes the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus countries as diverse as Mongolia, North Korea and Canada.

Ramos Horta, co-winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Price, said he did not see deliberate obstruction as a reason why ARF had still not accepted his country, which split from Indonesia less than five years ago.

Rather, the delay was caused by Indian unwillingness to see arch rival Pakistan within the ranks of the ARF and this in turn delayed membership for East Timor, he said.

"This has been resolved and they decided therefore to admit Pakistan," Ramos Horta said. "So now the road is clear for East Timor to join next year."

He said East Timor is keen on membership of the ARF, given the country's location "in the midst of the region."

Previously, Ramos Horta said East Timor was not an Asian country and would rather tie a strong relations with Southwest Pacific countries instead of joining ASEAN. (***)

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