Subject: JP: Interview with Prime Minister Alkatiri

Jakarta Post
October 22, 2004

Many Indonesian businesspeople will come to E. Timor to invest

On the sidelines of his visit here to attend the inauguration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Jusuf Kalla, East Timorese Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri talked on Wednesday with The Jakarta Post's Veeramalla Anjaiah and Adianto P. Simamora. The following are excerpts of the interview.

Question: What do you think of a retired Army general, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, becoming Indonesia's new president?

Answer: Let me first congratulate Dr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Jusuf Kalla for their victory in the first-ever direct presidential election. I would also like to congratulate all leaders of Indonesia, particularly Ibu Megawati Soekarnoputri, for the successful democratic election process.

President Susilo is not new to us, we have met him several times already and know him very well. I can describe the President as an open-minded person, and very competent in his duties. I am sure he will become one of the best presidents of Indonesia. We are ready to work with him in the interests of both countries, and strengthen our relations further.

How does Indonesia figure in your country's foreign policy?

Indonesia is one of the most important countries to us. East Timor is a very small country dwarfed between two big countries in the region: Australia and Indonesia. What we are looking for are the best possible relations with Indonesia. These ties are based on our historic, political, economic and geostrategic interests.

What about economic relations?

They are good. Some Indonesian companies have already been operating in East Timor. By end of this year, we will have a new package of laws, especially investment laws. These laws are intended to attract foreign investment. I think many Indonesian businesspeople will come to East Timor to invest. Indonesia is one of our biggest trade and economic partners.

What is your government's stance on the verdicts handed down in cases of human rights abuses in East Timor?

As the Prime Minister of East Timor, I don't want to make any comment on courts in foreign countries. It would not be appropriate of me to comment on Indonesian courts.

As far as the courts in East Timor are concerned, I can tell you that more people have been convicted. So far, these courts are administered by personnel from the United Nations, not from East Timor. I think, these courts have not achieved 100 percent success in dealing with serious crime. But, they have been doing a good job. And now we are approaching the end of the UN's presence in East Timor. We have already begun some discussions on how to administer these courts once the UN has left the country. We have to do something to continue the legal process.

Still, there are some contentious issues, like Indonesian assets and the demarcation of borders. What is your government's stance on these problems?

Relations are very good at the highest levels. Of course, we are aware that some issues are still pending. We have held a series of talks on reaching a land-border agreement and they are in the final phase. We are yet to reach an agreement on maritime boundaries. We have many avenues to resolve these pending issues. And we have this issue of assets. We are working on it. We need a particular kind of approach to resolve it.

Could you tell us about the around 400 Indonesians who are staying at a mosque in Dili? How you are going to settle this matter?

There are around 400 Indonesians staying at the mosque. They are illegals. They don't want to be legalized, but they claim they are East Timorese. Our foreign affairs, labor and human rights offices are working with them, trying to implement our laws in our country. I am sure that if the same situation happened in another country, they would have been expelled from the country by now. Since it is the holy month of Ramadhan, we stopped pressurizing them. They are still there.

Being a Muslim prime minister in the predominantly catholic East Timor, how do you feel and what kind of difficulties do you face?

Personally, I am a Muslim, though not a leader of the Muslim community in East Timor. I have been telling the people that as a politician and as a prime minister, I have no religion. I did not get this job because of my religion. I got it because of my involvement in the struggle for freedom, and my position in the ruling party. I am the prime minister of both Muslims and Christians, and the entire population of East Timor for that matter.

There is no discrimination against Muslims, who are the minority in East Timor. The Catholic church is very tolerant and the Muslim community has always been integrated into society, while maintaining differences in religion and some rituals. The 400 Indonesians, who are staying at the mosque, refused to integrate with East Timorese society. That's the problem. The spirit and sense of tolerance in East Timor is really very high.


see also U.S.-Indonesia Military Assistance page

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