Subject: AP: Nobel Prize Laureate: Keeping Peace Is E. Timor's Challenge

Received from Joyo Indonesian News

Nobel Prize Laureate: Keeping Peace Is E Timor's Challenge

SINGAPORE, April 25 (AP)--Nobel Prize laureate Jose Ramos-Horta said Thursday that the people of East Timor still fear for their security and that maintaining peace and security is the biggest challenge for the poverty-stricken territory - which will become the world's newest nation next month.

"There is tension in the air. There is fear. There is anxiety. After so many years of violence, people are still afraid," Ramos-Horta told the Foreign Correspondents Association of Singapore.

East Timor will become independent on May 20 after years of struggle against Indonesia, which invaded the half-island territory in 1975 after Portuguese colonial rule collapsed. Its occupation ended in 1999 when the East Timorese voted for independence.

Ramos-Horta welcomed reports that Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri would attend independence celebrations. "She probably would be the star of the event," he said, adding that good relations with Indonesia will be a cornerstone of the new nation's foreign policy.

After East Timor's U.N.-sponsored vote for independence in 1999, the Indonesian military and local militia loyalists mounted a campaign of killing, looting and burning that left hundreds dead and forced 250,000 people to flee their homes.

Now the refugees are coming home, Ramos-Horta said. Maintaining peace and security is the only way to keep the East Timorese happy and to attract desperately needed foreign investment, he said.

Differences between East Timor's President-elect Xanana Gusmao and the likely Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri, could become an "internal threat," Ramos-Horta said, but he added the two leaders were now working more closely together.

External threats from militias in Indonesia-controlled West Timor still exist, he said. He expressed hope that the border between East and West Timor could one day be demilitarized and turned into a free trade zone.

Close ties with Indonesia and other Asian countries are crucial to East Timor's security, and the new nation has no intention of offending Indonesia by supporting separatist movements in Aceh and other provinces, he said.

East Timor hopes to gain "observer status" in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations within the year and to become a full member within three to five years, he said.

Asean has "too many meetings" for East Timor to be able to afford to join the grouping now, he said, citing lack of manpower and money for all the international flights.


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