East Timor hopes to join ASEAN by 2012 but not as a “basket case” that might embarrass the bloc like Myanmar, East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta said.
Addressing the Foreign Correspondents Association late on Saturday, Ramos-Horta said his six-year-old country was improving its economy and other institutions in order to be ready to join the Southeast Asian grouping.
Myanmar joined ASEAN in 1997 but has been a controversial member because of alleged human rights violations, including the continued detention of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and torture claims.
Myanmar’s ruling generals have also come under fire for blocking urgent humanitarian relief to victims of Cyclone Nargis, which devastated the Irrawaddy Delta region.
No ASEAN country is opposing East Timor’s membership and it largest member, Indonesia, has assigned a senior diplomat to help the young nation in its membership preparations, Ramos-Horta said.
“I hope that by 2012 we can [join ASEAN],” he told his audience of journalists and diplomats.
“We set this target as pressure on ourselves to work harder in order to be eligible to join ASEAN because obviously ASEAN countries, with the embarrassing problems of Burma/Myanmar, they wouldn’t want a basket case, an unstable new member,” he said.
“So we have to work hard,” said the 58-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Ramos-Horta survived an assassination attempt in February, underlining instability in the impoverished country, which has a violent recent past.
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 only gained formal independence in 2002.