|Subject: AFP: East Timor prefers South Pacific Forum
ahead of ASEAN: Ramos Horta
Date: Sun, 01 Aug 1999 11:14:16 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <email@example.com>
East Timor prefers South Pacific Forum ahead of ASEAN: Ramos Horta
07/26/1999 Agence France-Presse (Copyright 1999)
MANILA, July 26 (AFP) - An independent East Timor would prefer to join the South Pacific Forum rather than the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), East Timorese independence leader Jose Ramos Horta said Monday.
Speaking to foreign correspondents while on a visit to the Philippines, Ramos Horta said "it is far more important for us to join the South Pacific Forum than ASEAN."
He said East Timor had "closer strategic relations" to Australia and predicted that an independent East Timor would develop "strategic relations with Australia and New Zealand and strong cultural relations with the islands in the South Pacific."
East Timorese had a stronger "cultural affinity with the Pacific islands than with Southeast Asia," he said.
"East Timorese are much more at home in Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu than with Thailand or Indonesia."
East Timorese are to vote in a plebiscite on August 21 or 22 to decide if they want autonomy within Indonesia, which has said it may grant the former Portuguese territory independence if the autonomy offer is rejected.
But despite his position on ASEAN, Ramos Horta said he expected the Philippines and Singapore to become "important future partners" of an independent East Timor .
He cited the longstanding activities of Filipino church workers in East Timor , adding that the Philippines and East Timor were the only "two Catholic countries in Asia."
He also expressed admiration at how Singapore had become a leading developed economy despite its tiny size and lack of natural resources, and said it could play a major role in developing East Timor 's infrastructure.
ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Earlier this year, Dewi Fortuna Anwar, foreign affairs adviser to Indonesian President B.J. Habibie, said Jakarta was likely to sponsor East Timor as a member of ASEAN if the troubled territory gained independence.