East Timor Receives Cambodian Support for Asean Bid

Cambodia will support East Timor’s bid to become a member of Asean in 2012, East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta said in an interview yesterday.

Mr Ramos-Horta, who was visiting Phnom Penh, said he had discussed his country’s potential accession into Asean with Prime Minister Hun Sen in a meeting on Wednesday and with Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong yesterday.

“I got a very positive response from Prime Minister Hun Sen and from the Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, both of who have been for many years very friendly and sympathetic to Timor-Leste,” said Mr Ramos-Horta yesterday.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirmed Mr Ramos-Horta’s assertion.

“Cambodia will be supporting East Timor’s membership in Asean,” he said.

Cambodia’s support will be particularly important to East Timor in its application for Asean membership, because Cambodia will hold the association’s rotating chairmanship in 2012.

On Wednesday, Minister of Information and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Cambodia would not take a stance on the issue until the government of Indonesia, which relinquished control of East Timor in 1999 after a quarter-century of turmoil, had publicized its position.

According to Mr Ramos-Horta, Indonesia has been the most active supporter of East Timor’s potential membership in Asean, going so far as to send an ambassador to advise the Timorese government on the membership process.

“If Indonesia supports East Timor becoming a member of Asean than why should any other Asean country be against it?” asked Mr Ramos-Horta. “That is what the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister said.”

Mr Ramos-Horta said both Mr Hun Sen and Mr Namhong also agreed that East Timor is eligible for Asean membership because it is located in Southeast Asia and has moved towards political and economic stability over the past five years.

East Timor owes much of its economic growth to revenue from its oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea. Mr Ramos-Horta offered some advice to the Cambodian government as it begins to oversee the drilling of its own offshore oil fields.

“It is crucial that Cambodia learn form the Timor experience, because Cambodia will soon be an oil- and gas-producing nation and will need strict laws and regulations like us to prevent it from following countries like Venezuela, Mexico and Nigeria,” he said.

A Nobel laureate, Mr Ramos-Horta has also been an outspoken critic of the junta controlling Burma, also known as Myanmar, for many years. He claimed that membership in Asean would not stop him from continuing to push for the release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

“Membership in Asean does not mean having to turn a blind eye to the problems in Myanmar, but being forceful on this issue doesn’t mean ending diplomatic relations,” said Mr Ramos-Horta. “East Timor has diplomatic relations with Myanmar, and I have personally opposed economic sanctions on Myanmar while being very supportive on Aung San Suu Kyi and her getting freedom, a position that is no different from the Asean official position.”


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