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
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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.

FASTFACTS

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.


On World Refugee Day, Afghans in Pakistan fear deportation

Updated 10 min 49 sec ago
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On World Refugee Day, Afghans in Pakistan fear deportation

  • Islamabad has set June 30 as the deadline for Afghan refugees to return to their country
  • Nearly 4.2 million Afghans have been repatriated to their native country since 2002, according to the UN refugee agency

PESHAWAR: Rasool Khan, 40, and his four siblings were born in Pakistan, his family having moved there immediately after the former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1978.
Both his grandfather and father were merchants and frequently visited Pakistan. “My father used to visit Pakistan for business, but in the 1970s he permanently moved there because of the war in Afghanistan,” Khan said.
But Pakistan has set June 30 as the deadline for Afghan refugees to leave the country. Khan, a representative of Afghan traders in the Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce, said there should be a separate policy for students, businesspeople and Afghans married to Pakistani women.
“It’s not fair to deal with all Afghans under the same policy of deportation and repatriation,” he added.
With World Refugee Day being observed on June 20, Afghans living in Pakistan hope that the deadline will be extended.
Abdul Hameed, director of the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations, said Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhawa (KP) province hosts 1.1 million Afghan refugees.
Based in KP’s capital Peshawar, he expressed hope that Pakistan’s caretaker government will extend the stay of Afghan refugees.
“Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan are improving, and both sides are in touch on the refugee issue,” he told Arab News.
The director general of the Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees in KP, Waqar Maroof, said Islamabad is considering adopting a separate policy for Afghan students, traders and those married to Pakistani women.
“Once KP’s Interior Ministry gives the go-ahead, we’ll implement the plan,” he told Arab News.
Qaiser Khan Afridi, spokesman in Pakistan for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said 4.2 million Afghans have been repatriated to their native country since 2002.
“Pakistan is the second-largest refugee host country (in the world), and it is hosting around 1.4 million Afghan registered refugees at the moment,” he added.
Islamabad says there are more than 1 million Afghans living in Pakistan without proper documentation.
“We want Afghan refugees to stay in Pakistan with legal and valid documents,” said Maroof. “Afghans who were repatriated to their native country want to come to Pakistan on a valid visa and passport so they can stay here legally.”
Khan fears losing the business he and his father built over the last four decades if he is forced to go to Afghanistan.
His friend Masham Khan moved there a few months ago, but returned to Pakistan after getting a visa because “there isn’t enough business activity” in Afghanistan.