Subject: KY: ASEAN to amend its amity treaty if E. Timor serious to join

ASEAN to amend its amity treaty if E. Timor serious to join

(Kyodo) _ Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda said Wednesday the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations will amend its peace and security treaty if East Timor shows a serious intention to join the grouping.

Wirajuda made the comments after meeting his counterparts from Australia, East Timor, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines in the so-called "Southwest Pacific Dialogue" on the sidelines of a series of ASEAN meetings going on since Saturday.

East Timor has decided to accede to a peace and security treaty of the 10-member ASEAN, a first step to join the grouping in the future, said the joint communique released at the end of the 39th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Tuesday.

"It is our own best interest to join ASEAN," East Timor Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta told reporters upon arrival in Kuala Lumpur. "Indicating our interest to join ASEAN, first we will sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation."

Wirajuda said, however, it will not be easy for East Timor to join ASEAN in the near future because Article 18 in the treaty defines ASEAN countries as the current ASEAN members.

"For that matter, if there is a serious intention of Timor Leste to join ASEAN, it would take some time for current ASEAN members to amend Article 18," he said, referring to East Timor's official name.

"For that matter, the ensuing process of ratification would take some time to allow Timor Leste and whatever countries in the region to join ASEAN," he added.

"ASEAN's and Timor Leste's understanding is that the accession of Timor Leste to ASEAN's Treaty of Amity and Cooperation would not entail or entitle Timor Leste to ASEAN membership," he said.

In an interview with Malaysia's Bernama news agency, Joao Camara, director of Multilateral and Regional Affairs at East Timor's Foreign Ministry, expressed hope ASEAN will relax the conditions to enable the early admission of the world's newest nation into the grouping.

"I think if ASEAN members relax a bit...(let us) set up embassies in a few (ASEAN) countries first and then supervise us, that probably will be much easier for us," he said.

To be an ASEAN member, an interested country is required to have embassies in all the ASEAN countries. East Timor currently only has embassies in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Since 2002, East Timor's status in ASEAN has been a guest of the ASEAN chairman.

In their Tuesday meeting, the ministers turned down East Timor's wish, expressed by Ramos-Horta on Monday, to upgrade its status to be an ASEAN observer and only agreed on a role lower than an observer.

"We agreed to Timor Leste's participation, where appropriate, in functional areas of ASEAN activities," the communique says.

The ASEAN Secretariat's Discussion Paper, obtained by Kyodo News, says the participation of East Timor in certain activities in ASEAN "will not create any special right for Timor Leste in ASEAN, nor will it oblige ASEAN to consider favorably the future application of Timor Leste for either the observer status or membership in ASEAN."

"It is intended to complement, not replace, bilateral cooperation between individual ASEAN member countries and Timor Leste under the principle of 'prosper thy neighbor,'" the paper said.

Along with Foreign Minister Jose Luis Guterres, Ramos-Horta is in Kuala Lumpur to participate in the ASEAN Regional Forum, which brings together the foreign ministers of ASEAN and foreign ministers from most other Pacific Rim countries for discussions of regional security issues, on Thursday and Friday.

According to the discussion paper, since joining the ARF in 2005, East Timor's rate of participation in ARF activities has been the lowest, just about 36 percent, attributed mainly to the country's shortage of qualified government officials.

East Timor became independent in May 2002, following a 1999 referendum in which its people voted to split from Indonesia after 24 years of occupation.

Earlier this month, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ramos-Horta replaced Mari Alkatiri, who was forced to step down over violence in which more than 20 people were killed.

The current ASEAN members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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