East Timor President Talks Asean Membership in Phnom Penh

In a lecture delivered yesterday at the University of Cambodia, visiting East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta trumpeted his country’s progress toward joining Asean.

East Timor, which needs the support of every member state of Asean in order to join, is on track to attain the membership criteria of peace, stability and human rights promotion by 2012, Mr Ramos-Horta said.

“Hopefully with Cambodia’s support…we will join Asean,” said Mr Ramos-Horta, who was East Timor’s Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2002, when the country became an Asean “observer.”

Minister of Information and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said yesterday that the Cambodian government has not yet decided whether to support East Timor’s bid for Asean membership.

“We do not have a stance,” Mr Kanharith said. “We are waiting for the Indonesian government to take a stance first.”

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Mr Ramos-Horta was scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday afternoon with and Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong this morning.

Mr Ramos-Horta said that despite Indonesia’s long and often bloody occupation of his country, which ended in 1999, Indonesia has in fact been “one of the countries that most supports East Timor’s membership in Asean.”

Answering questions after the end of his lecture, entitled “Building a Culture of Peace and Development in a Globalized World,” Mr Ramos-Horta spoke candidly about what he said may be the main obstacle standing between East Timor and Asean membership: East Timor itself.

If East Timor is not stable, he asked, “Why would Asean want another problem? Don’t they have enough?”

But Mr Ramos-Horta remained optimistic about East Timor’s future, claiming that his country’s reliance on domestic oil and gas revenues rather than foreign aid to finance poverty alleviation and health-care programs showed the potential for sustained peace in a country scarred by war.

The common history of Cambodia and East Timor was another theme in Mr Ramos-Horta’s lecture. He described Cambodia as a victim and East Timor as a “footnote” of the Cold War.

Mr Ramos-Horta, who won the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize before ascending to the presidency in 2007, arrived in Cambodia yesterday on a trip organized by the International Peace Foundation.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Burmon)


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