Indonesia brings Timor Leste a step closer to Asean membership

Jakarta (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) agreed to allow Timor Leste to "participate" in the grouping's next meetings, thanks to lobbying by Indonesia during Asean's 22nd Summit in Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said on Friday.

"It was a small but significant improvement [in Timor Leste's bid to attain full Asean membership]," Marty said at Halim Perdanakusuma International Airport in East Jakarta after arriving from Bandar Seri Begawan. "We are still waiting for the formal decision on it."

The minister, however, did not delve into the limitations on Timor Leste's "participation" in Asean's upcoming meetings.

Marty was among President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's delegation carrying out a five-day Asean tour, which also included state visits to Singapore and Myanmar. The Garuda Indonesia Boeing 737-800 carrying the President, First Lady Ani Yudhoyono and delegates touched down on Friday afternoon.

The approval of Timor Leste's bid to have a greater role in Asean was also included in the summit chairman's statement.

"We were encouraged by the progress in discussions of the Asean Coordinating Council [ACC] and the ACC Working Group [ACCWG] on all relevant aspects related to the application by Timor Leste, as well as its possible implication for Asean, and agreed to explore the possibility of Timor Leste's participation in Asean activities within the context of its need for capacity building," the statement read.

Indonesia's commitment to supporting Timor Leste's bid to join Asean was also reiterated by Yudhoyono when he met visiting Timor Leste Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao in Jakarta last month.

The "small" improvement achieved in Bandar Seri Begawan might be seen as a "big" step by Dili as Timor Leste's bid to join the bloc has been to no avail for years, despite Indonesia's repeated stress on the importance of having Indonesia's former 27th province in Asean.

Indonesia annexed Timor Leste (at that time East Timor) in 1975, but lost control of it after a referendum in 1999. Timor Leste formally declared independence in May 2002.

Dili has proposed its inclusion as an Asean member since 2007 but its formal application was submitted in 2011 under Indonesia's Asean chairmanship.

Before leaving for Jakarta, Yudhoyono said that Indonesia's next task after the summit would be ensuring its readiness to welcome the Asean Economic Community (AEC) in 2015.

"You ought not to say that 'we're not ready'. Stop complaining. Let's do something together," he told the press in Bandar Seri Begawan as quoted by Antara news agency.

The President said that he would immediately set up a committee to ensure the readiness of Indonesia to welcome the AEC. He said that he had assigned Coordinating Economic Minister Hatta Rajasa to establish the committee.

The committee will include representatives from a wide variety of backgrounds, including the state government, local administrations, business, labor unions and experts. The committee will identify, among others things, industrial sectors that still need to be enhanced ahead of the implementation of the AEC

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