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Tuesday, 21 May, 2002, 02:32 GMT 03:32 UK
Asean reticent over East Timor
Asean members
Asean has invited East Timor to a July meeting
The Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) has reacted cautiously to calls for the newly independent state of East Timor to join the organisation.

Asean's Secretary General, Rodolfo Severino, told the BBC that East Timor would be able to argue its case at a regional forum in July - where the new nation has been invited as a guest.

But he said no formal application had yet been received, and certain conditions would have to be met first - for example an East Timorese embassy would have to open in all of Asean's 10 member states.

East Timorese wave the new national flag
The East Timorese celebrated the birth of their new nation on Sunday
Despite the reticence shown by Asean, East Timor is already forging links abroad.

An application to join the United Nations, ratified in East Timor's first session of parliament on Monday, received a more positive reaction.

"All nations are equals... the doors of the United Nations are open to rich or poor nations, small or big nations," UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said after receiving the application.

Later the UN's Security Council said it expected East Timor to become the UN's 190th member at the next annual session of the General Assembly in mid-September.

China has become the first country to strike up diplomatic relations with the new country, while former US President Bill Clinton raised the stars and stripes at the new US embassy.

Mr Clinton acknowledged that the US could have done more after Indonesia's invasion of East Timor in 1975.

"I don't believe America or any of the other countries were sufficiently sensitive in the beginning or for a long time," he told reporters.


East Timor's new government was sworn in on Monday, and immediately pledged to tackle the enormous task of rebuilding the country's ravaged economy.

East Timor key facts:
  • Population of 800,000
  • Asia's poorest country
  • Languages include Tetum, Portuguese and Indonesian
  • 90% Roman Catholic
    See also:

  • President Xanana Gusmao swore in a 24-member cabinet in the capital, Dili, as the country awoke from an all-night party following its move to independence on Sunday.

    The new territory quickly received an economic lift, with Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri signing a lucrative oil deal with Australia under which East Timor will get 90% of the revenue from a jointly controlled area of the Timor Sea.

    And at the parliament's inaugural session, Mr Alkatiri presented the programme of his new government, stressing that his main spending priorities would be health and education.

    Over the next three years, he said, the amount spent on these essential services would increase to almost half the national budget.

    Earlier, Mr Alkatiri also emphasised "the importance of the policy of national reconciliation as an essential base for national stability".

    East Timor was terrorised by pro-Indonesian militias during the vote for independence in 1999, and President Gusmao wants to rehabilitate these former militia members into East Timorese society.

    Desperate poverty

    East Timor's economy was seriously damaged by the violent Indonesian withdrawal in 1999 and by centuries of neglect as a Portuguese colony.

    International donors - particularly former colonial power Portugal - have made an extra $360m available to help in East Timor's construction.

    The BBC's Jonathan Head, in Dili, says that among the problems East Timor faces are its isolation, its lack of infrastructure and its poorly educated population.

    But if agreements are signed with Australia to cover the other oil fields in the region, East Timor could receive a windfall of billions of dollars over the next two decades.

    The BBC's Richard Galpin
    "The money should start flowing within the next four years "
    The BBC's Richard Galpin
    "The first new nation of the 21st century"
    East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao
    "Two thirds of my trying to handle the responsibility"
    The BBC's Jonathan Head
    "Quite an extraordinary plan to spend nearly half of the entire budget on health and education"

    Key stories

    Independence day


    Key people


    See also:

    19 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
    13 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
    20 May 02 | Media reports
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