Subject: SCMP: Myanmar junta is trying to block East Timor's integration into Asean

South China Morning Post Friday, April 26, 2002

Junta 'out to block Asean bid over ties to Suu Kyi'


Myanmar is trying to block East Timor's integration into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations because of its leaders' links with opposition figure Aung San Suu Kyi, Dili's interim foreign minister said.

Jose Ramos Horta said Yangon's military authorities were lobbying to have the territory, which achieves independence next month, barred from gaining Asean observer status, a first step to full membership of the 10-state group.

Speaking at a meeting with the foreign media in Singapore yesterday, the Nobel Peace laureate said: "Yes it seems that Burma, Myanmar, has objected to us even obtaining observer status. The reality of the matter is that East Timor is a Southeast Asian entity, a sovereign entity. the geographic criteria alone should prevail."

Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won elections to govern Myanmar in 1990 but the results were quashed by the military junta, which suppressed the NLD. Ms Suu Kyi remains in Yangon under virtual house arrest.

Over the past two decades, as Mr Ramos Horta and his colleagues campaigned against Indonesia's invasion of East Timor and annexation of the former Portuguese colony, they forged close ties with Ms Suu Kyi.

Mr Ramos Horta said there was some disquiet among other Asean states about East Timor joining the association as the group was already burdened by its expansion in the 1990s to include Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

At present Dili attends Asean gatherings by invitation. Mr Ramos Horta said he hoped East Timor would be accepted as an observer for three to four years, then be able to apply for membership. Joining the group would help to reinforce the new state's strategic security, he said.

East Timor is currently administered by the United Nations after voting for independence from Indonesia in a 1999 referendum. It is set to become the century's first new state on May 20.

Conscious of East Timor's vulnerability and turbulent history, the interim foreign minister said his new country would never become a base for other groups struggling to secede from Indonesia.

"It is very simple: assuming that some East Timor government decided 'well, let's support the Acehnese', the next day the Indonesians would support something in West Timor in regard to East Timor."

An Islamic resistance movement in Aceh, in the north of Sumatra, has been fighting for the province's independence from Jakarta for years.

Mr Ramos Horta said China would be among the first countries lining up to recognise the new state next month. There had been approaches from the Taiwanese, but these fell on deaf ears.

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