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.


Taliban under attack in Badghis province

In this file photo, Afghan National Army soldiers carry out an exercise during a live firing at the Afghan Military Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Afghan officials say around 100 soldiers fled their posts and tried to cross into neighboring Turkmenistan during a weeklong battle with the Taliban, in the latest setback for the country's battered security forces. (AP)
Updated 18 March 2019
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Taliban under attack in Badghis province

  • Several government troops fleeing the Taliban rampage crossed into neighboring Turkmenistan
  • In a statement, the ministry had said that 50 Taliban combatants had been killed

KABUL: Afghanistan’s government launched a ground and air offensive on Monday to flush out Taliban insurgents from a key area in the northwestern province of Badghis, which is close to the border with Turkmenistan, officials said.

The focal point of the operation was the Bala Murghab district where, a few days ago, the Taliban had captured dozens of government forces in addition to overrunning several parts of the district, which serves as a gateway to the northern areas for the insurgents.

Several government troops fleeing the Taliban rampage crossed into neighboring Turkmenistan, officials said. 

One provincial official and a lawmaker from the province, who requested anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media, said that Turkmenistan was due to hand over the troops to Afghanistan on Monday.

Sayed Mohmmad Musa, a lawmaker from the province, said that hundreds of government troops have taken part in the operation, which had resulted in the deaths of several of the Taliban’s top commanders.

“Through the operation, the government wants to not only regain the control of the district, but is also trying to free those forces who either had to join the Taliban or were captured by them several days ago,” he said by phone.

“There is heavy fighting there and the government wants to end the Taliban threat because it is a strategic location,” he said.

Meanwhile, spokesmen for the defense and interior ministries did not answer repeated calls for comment about the government’s operation and about the Taliban’s rampage days ago.

In a statement released earlier, the ministry had said that 50 Taliban combatants had been killed.

There were conflicting reports about the number of troops who were captured by the Taliban and those who had fled to Turkmenistan, while the Taliban said 90 soldiers had surrendered.

The development comes amid continuing efforts in recent months by US diplomats and Taliban delegates for finding a peaceful settlement to the war. 

Both the Taliban and government forces, backed by the US military, have stepped up their attacks in a number of areas in the country.

Ahmad Saeedi, an analyst from Badghis, said the remoteness of the province, changes in the leadership of the ministry and confusion among troops about the peace process were some of the factors for the Taliban’s gains in Badghis.

“The time of US and Taliban formally announcing a deal has become closer; this has disheartened some troops in some parts of the country to keep on fighting,” Saeedi told Arab News.

Mirza Mohammed Yarmand, a military analyst and retired general, agreed. He told Arab News: “Unfortunately, the schism and differences among the political leaders of the country have caused disruption and slowness in the conduct of responsibilities of officers in the battlefield.”

He added: “Logistical shortcomings, the amount of attacks conducted by the enemy, (the government’s) failure to transport on time the war casualties from the battle ground and the amount of time officers spend in war zone, are among the reasons for incidents such as Bala Murghab.”

“When there is difference among the leaders that certainly impacts the moral of troops,” he said.