Subject: Timor Leste Hopes Asean Will Relax Conditions On Membership

Timor Leste Hopes Asean Will Relax Conditions On Membership

By R.Ravichandran

KUALA LUMPUR, July 25 (Bernama) -- Timor Leste has expressed the hope that Asean will relax the conditions to enable the early admission of the world's newest nation into the grouping.

Joao Camara, Timor Leste director of Multilateral and Regional Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said one such condition was the requirement that an interested country should have embassies in all the Asean nations before being considered for membership.

"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 told Bernama after the opening of the 39th Asean Ministerial Meeting (AMM) here Tuesday.

To become a member of Asean, Timor Leste has to fulfil certain criteria, including setting up embassies in all the Asean member countries -- something the turmoil-ridden country could not afford to do fast.

Timor Leste, which sits as an observer in Asean, currently has embassies in only two Asean countries -- Indonesia and Malaysia.

Opening eight more embassies in Asean in order to be eligible to be a member is a tall order for the country inhabited by less than one million people who are yet to recover from the recent political impasse.

By joining Asean earlier, Camara hoped that Timor Leste could benefit from the many Asean-related programmes as well as contribute to regional peace and security.

"If Asean members can understand the situation and Timor Leste is given some flexibility to join earlier, I think it will be great," he said.

However, Camara also acknowledged the need for Dili to prepare in areas such as human resources, capacity building and financial resources.

"These are necessary to integrate into Asean programmes and to implement various Asean-related programmes such as those on development and other socio-economic programmes," he said.

Camara said Timor Leste had also asked to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in Southeast Asia and the regional grouping was still discussing whether to give its consent.

Timor Leste Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Minister Dr Jose Luis Guterres is expected to sign the official application by his country to join Asean at the on-going AMM, which will be followed by the Post-Ministerial Conferences (PMC) and the 13th Asean Regional Forum (ARF).

Meanwhile, Timor Leste's new Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta is scheduled to arrive here tomorrow to meet his Malaysian counterpart, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Both leaders are expected to witness the signing of the State of Force Agreement on the deployment of Malaysia's military and police forces in Timor Leste.

Timor Leste, which gained independence from Indonesia following a referendum in 1999, has been an Asean observer since 2002 upon being conferred full-fledged nationhood and it attended the ARF meeting last year.

Formerly known as East Timor, it mainly exports coffee and marble and is said to have huge reserves of oil and gas, which have yet to be tapped.


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