2011/01/17

Indonesia backs E.Timor's ASEAN membership bid

MEDANA, January 16, 2011 (AFP) - Indonesia on Sunday voiced support for East Timor's bid to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

"ASEAN now has 10 members and we've heard that Timor Leste wishes to join and we openly support it," Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told reporters, using the country's official name.

There has been no formal discussion on the membership yet "but Timor Leste has already conveyed its wish openly", he said at a retreat for the regional bloc's foreign ministers on the island of Lombok.

His comments demonstrate how the relationship between Jakarta and Dili has improved in recent years.

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, was invaded by Indonesia in 1975 as it moved towards formal independence, starting a brutal 24-year occupation.

It won its freedom in a 1999 UN-backed referendum marred by violence that left an estimated 1,400 people dead as Indonesian-backed militias laid waste to much of the country in a scorched earth campaign that displaced hundreds of thousands.

East Timor gained formal independence in 2002.

A reconciliation commission established jointly by East Timor and Indonesia found in 2008 that while gross human rights were committed by Indonesian forces, there should be no more trials and no further arrests.

Indonesia this year assumes the revolving chairmanship of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) from Vietnam, and will host the group's annual summit and related meetings, steering the agenda for the year.

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