Dec 7, 2012

Thailand - East Timor eager about joining ranks of Asean, ambassador says

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East Timor is keen to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations even though its human resources and economy still need developing, its ambassador to Thailand, Joao Freitas de Camara, says.

Mr Camara said his country is ready to do its best.

Previously, some Asean members including Singapore did not want East Timor in the regional bloc because the country's internal conflicts might cause it problems.

Mr Camara conceded East Timor needs to do more work on economic development before it can become an Asean member.

He said the reconstruction of his country is continuing after its recent conflicts, and the process would take time.

"The time is good for us to prepare ourselves to join Asean. We still need to improve our human resources to cover more than 700 Asean meetings a year. Our government has sent students to further their studies in Asean countries and as well as Europe.

"We expect that in the next 10-15 years, we will be able to achieve our human resources capacity goal when the students come back to help develop the country," Mr Camara said.

He spoke at a recent seminar organised by the Foreign Ministry to mark the 10th anniversary of Thai-East Timor diplomatic relations.

The ambassador was confident his country would settle down after United Nations peacekeeping forces leave at the end of this year.

"We came out of the conflict 24 years ago. Even though there will be no UN peacekeeping forces in the country, we are sure to move in the right direction," the ambassador said.

He said Thailand has been East Timor's good friend since its independence. It has supported East Timor in forging peace and stability, by sending troops to help build the nation.

Mr Camara said his government launched a 30-year strategic development plan last year which focused on investing in human capital to develop the country.

He believed, however, that if East Timor could become an Asean member, the grouping would benefit from its rich natural resources, such as oil and gas reserves, coffee and marble, which he said are unsurpassed in Asia.

Former Thai ambassador to East Timor, Wiwat Kultornthien, is confident the country would not slide back into conflict after the UN forces leave.

Mr Wiwat said the five-year conflict was a painful experience for Timorese people.

It prompted citizens to adopt a reconciliation mentality. The leaders' thinking is also different from the past, he said.

The former ambassador, who served in East Timor from 2005-2010, said East Timor has oil and gas reserves, but these would probably be exhausted in 25-30 years. The country is giving scholarships to students to study agriculture in Thailand.

If East Timor could join Asean one day, it may export agricultural produce to other members of the bloc, which would be a payoff for Thailand's efforts to help East Timor.

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