East Timor’s leader praises ‘amazing relations’ with Indonesia

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East Timor Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri with his wife Marina Ribeiro Alkatiri, daughter Nurima Ribeiro Alkatiri and son in law Machel Silveira, pose for a photograph after an interview with Arab News at a hotel near the Fretilin party headquarters on May 12, 2018. (AN photo)
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East Timor Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri and his wife Marina Ribeiro Alkatiri pose for a photograph after an interview with Arab News at a hotel near the Fretilin party headquarters on May 12, 2018. (AN photo)
Updated 25 May 2018

East Timor’s leader praises ‘amazing relations’ with Indonesia

  • Alkatiri described Indonesia as East Timor’s ‘biggest supporter’ in its bid to become the 11th member of the ASEAN.
  • Indonesia and East Timor have yet to solve a maritime border issue on the Savu Sea

DILI: East Timor’s outgoing Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said that after almost two decades of separation from Indonesia, the country’s relations with its neighbor continue to strengthen despite some unresolved issues.
Indonesia “is our biggest supporter,” he said.
East Timor, also known as Timor Leste, celebrated the 16th anniversary of its hard-fought restoration to independence on May 20.

The day marks East Timor’s regaining its independence after 24 years of Indonesia’s occupation, which invaded the country shortly following its independence from Portugal in Nov 1975 that political party Frente Revolucionária de Timor-Leste Independente (Fretilin) unilaterally declared.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News at a hotel near Fretilin party’s headquarters, Alkatiri, Fretilin’s secretary-general, described East Timor’s relationship with its former invader as “amazing, very good.”
“We still have some pending issues, such as maritime and land borders in Oecussi,” he said, referring to an East Timor coastal exclave surrounded by Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province, which lies on the western part of Timor Island. East Timor is located on the island’s eastern half.
Oecussi is a special administrative zone and has been designated as special economic zone with Alkatiri as its president.
Alkatiri, who also served as East Timor’s first prime minister from 2002 to 2006, said both countries need to solve the border issue soon because it would be difficult to define a maritime border on the Savu Sea without a clearly marked land border.
“But the goodwill from both governments is there,” he said, adding that successive governments of East Timor will continue to strengthen the relations between the two countries.
Alkatiri described Indonesia as East Timor’s “biggest supporter” in its bid to become the 11th member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).


Indonesia was one of the regional bloc’s founding countries when it was established in 1967, and is regarded as its de facto leader. Indonesia endorsed East Timor’s ASEAN bid when it formally submitted its application in 2011 during Indonesia’s ASEAN chairmanship.
Singapore, the current chair, has been reluctant to welcome East Timor into the bloc, but has said it looked forward to East Timor meeting the requirements to allow it to become a member.
Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said after hosting an ASEAN leaders’ summit in April that the topic was discussed during the forum, but “there was no extended discussion of the matter in this meeting.”
Alkatiri said that ASEAN membership is “a very long dream.”
So far, East Timor has met two of the requirements to be an ASEAN member: The country is located in Southeast Asia and has embassies in all 10 member states.
“This is one of the few things that is a consensus between the leadership of Timor Leste, despite the differences,” he said.
Alkatiri’s apparent successor Xanana Gusmao, who is poised to serve as prime minister for the third time, said East Timor is doing its best to become an ASEAN member.
“We understand some (member) countries think we are not ready, but sooner or later, we will be a member,” Gusmao told Arab News in an interview at his party National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) headquarters.
CNRT led a three-party coalition that beat the shortlived, Fretilin-led minority government in the May 12 parliamentary election.
Alkatiri, who has been serving his second term as prime minister since September last year, is a Muslim leader in a predominantly Catholic country. His family on his paternal grandfather’s side came from Hadramaut in Yemen.
“They came as traders at that time and decided to stay,” he said.
Alkatiri’s maternal grandparents were Timorese who came from Baucau and Liquica districts. He is married to Marina Ribeiro and has three children.
The East Timorese leader acknowledged that it was not easy to be accepted overwhelmingly in a Catholic-majority country.
“But I think I managed to show them that, for me, religion is a private matter, and what I am looking for is the best for the people. They finally understood my position,” he said.
Alkatiri has been at the top level of Fretilin leadership almost since the party’s beginning.
Asked if East Timor’s younger generation will take over the political landscape, which is still dominated by resistance-era leaders, Alkatiri said Fretilin has a new generation of leaders.
His daughter Nurima is also a Fretilin party politician, but when asked about her role in politics, Alkatiri said it would be up to her to chart her own political path.
“She is not my successor, but she has her own rights to play her role,” he said.
Alkatiri said the most pressing need for East Timor, with almost half its 1.2 million population still living in poverty, is government investment in public infrastructure, such as education and health, and spending on basic living needs, such as community housing and clean water.
“This is a 16-year-old country. We still need to build the nation; we really need to strengthen the foundation of the nation, institutional, political foundation, everyone needs to join efforts to do it,” he said.


Mari Alkatiri, the outgoing Prime Minister, who has been serving his second term as prime minister since September last year, is a Muslim leader in a predominantly Catholic country. His family on his paternal grandfather’s side came from Hadramaut in Yemen.

Over 7K-strong, migrant caravan pushes on; still far from US

The caravan’s numbers have continued to grow. (Reuters)
Updated 13 min 58 sec ago

Over 7K-strong, migrant caravan pushes on; still far from US

  • The caravan is at least 1,140 miles (1,830 kilometers) from the nearest border crossing
  • No one is capable of organizing this many people: aid worker

TAPACHULA, Mexico: Thousands of Central American migrants resumed an arduous trek toward the US border Monday, with many bristling at suggestions there could be terrorists among them and saying the caravan is being used for political ends by US President Donald Trump.
The caravan’s numbers have continued to grow as they walk and hitch rides through hot and humid weather, and the United Nations estimated that it currently comprises some 7,200 people, “many of whom intend to continue the march north.”
However, they were still at least 1,140 miles (1,830 kilometers) from the nearest border crossing — McAllen, Texas — and the length of their journey could more than double if they go to Tijuana-San Diego, the destination of another caravan earlier this year. That one shrank significantly as it moved through Mexico, and only a tiny fraction — about 200 of the 1,200 in the group — reached the California border.
The same could well happen this time around as some turn back, splinter off on their own or decide to take their chances on asylum in Mexico — as 1,128 have done so far, according to the country’s Interior Department.
While such caravans have occurred semi-regularly over the years, this one has become a particularly hot topic ahead of the Nov. 6 midterm elections in the US, and an immigrant rights activist traveling with the group accused Trump of using it to stir up his Republican base.
“It is a shame that a president so powerful uses this caravan for political ends,” said Irineo Mujica of the group Pueblo Sin Fronteras — People Without Borders — which works to provide humanitarian aid to migrants.
Some have questioned the timing so close to the vote and whether some political force was behind it, though by all appearances it began as a group of about 160 who decided to band together in Honduras for protection and snowballed as they moved north.
“No one is capable of organizing this many people,” Mujica said, adding that there are only two forces driving them: “hunger and death.”
Earlier in the day Trump renewed threats against Central American governments and blasted Democrats via Twitter for what he called “pathetic” immigration laws.
In another tweet, he blamed Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador for not stopping people from leaving their countries. “We will now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given to them,” he wrote.
A team of AP journalists traveling with the caravan for more than a week has spoken with Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans, but has not met any Middle Easterners, who Trump suggested were “mixed in” with the Central American migrants.
It was clear, though, that more migrants were continuing to join the caravan.
Ana Luisa Espana, a laundry worker from Chiquimula, Guatemala, joined the caravan as she saw it pass through her country.
Even though the goal is to reach the US border, she said: “We only want to work and if a job turns up in Mexico, I would do it. We would do anything, except bad things.”
Denis Omar Contreras, a Honduran-born caravan leader also with Pueblo Sin Fronteras, said accusations that the caravan is harboring terrorists should stop.
“There isn’t a single terrorist here,” Contreras said. “We are all people from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. And as far as I know there are no terrorists in these four countries, at least beyond the corrupt governments.”
The migrants, many of them with blistered and bandaged feet, left the southern city of Tapachula in the early afternoon Monday under a burning sun bound for Huixtla, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) away.
In interviews along the journey, migrants have said they are fleeing widespread violence, poverty and corruption. The caravan is unlike previous mass migrations for its unprecedented large numbers and because it largely sprang up spontaneously through word of mouth.
Carlos Leonidas Garcia Urbina, a 28-year-old from Tocoa, Honduras, said he was cutting the grass in his father’s yard when he heard about the caravan, dropped the shears on the ground and ran to join with just 500 lempiras ($20) in his pocket.
“We are going to the promised land,” Garcia said, motioning to his fellow travelers.
Motorists in pickups and other vehicles have been offering the migrants rides, often in overloaded truck beds, and a male migrant fell from the back of one Monday and died.
“It is the responsibility of the driver, but it is very dangerous, and there you have the consequences,” Mexican federal police officer Miguel Angel Dominguez said, pointing to a puddle of blood around the man’s head.
Police started stopping crowded trucks and forcing people to get off.
Caravan leaders have not defined the precise route or decided where on the US border they want to arrive, but in recent years most Central American migrants traveling on their own have opted for the most direct route, which takes them to Reynosa, across from McAllen.
Late Sunday, authorities in Guatemala said another group of about 1,000 migrants had entered that country from Honduras.
Red Cross official Ulizes Garcia said some injured people refused to be taken to clinics or hospitals.
“We have had people who have ankle or shoulder injuries, from falls during the trip, and even though we have offered to take them somewhere where they can get better care, they have refused, because they fear they’ll be detained and deported,” Garcia said.
Roberto Lorenzana, a spokesman for El Salvador’s presidency, said his government hopes tensions over the caravan decrease after the US elections.
“We have confidence in the maturity of United States authorities to continue strengthening a positive relationship with our country,” Lorenzana said.
Asked if he thinks Trump will follow through on his threat to cut aid to El Salvador, he said, “I don’t know. Of course the president has a lot of power, but they will have to explain it there to the different government structures.”
Lorenzana added that El Salvador has significantly reduced violence, a key driver of migration, and that the flow of Salvadoran migrants has dropped 60 percent in two years.
UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said large numbers of migrants were still arriving in Mexico and were “likely to remain in the country for an extended period.”
The first waves of migrants began arriving in the southern town of Huixtla after an exhausting eight-hour trek and quickly staked out grassy spots in the town square to bed down overnight.
Marlon Anibal Castellanos, a 27-year-old former bus driver from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, roped a bit of plastic tarp to a tree to shelter his wife, 6-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter.
Castellanos said the family walked for six hours until they could go no farther. They saw the dead man who fell from the truck, and the danger of being on the road was troublesome, out in the middle of the countryside far from an ambulance or medical care should the kids to pass out in the heat.
“It’s hard to travel with children, Castellanos said.”