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.

Britain and EU spar over Brexit as clock ticks down

Updated 21 September 2019

Britain and EU spar over Brexit as clock ticks down

  • Britain says a deal is possible
  • Ireland says not close to a deal

LONDON/BRUSSELS : Britain said on Friday a Brexit deal with the European Union could be reached at a summit next month, but EU member Ireland said the sides were far from agreement and London had not yet made serious proposals.
Three years after Britons voted to leave the EU, hopes of a breakthrough over the terms of its departure have been stoked in recent days by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying the shape of a deal is emerging and European Commission President Juncker saying agreement is possible.
But diplomats say the two sides are split over London’s desire to remove the Irish border “backstop” from the divorce deal struck by Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, and then work out a replacement in coming years.
The backstop is an insurance policy to keep the 500-km (300-mile) border between Ireland, which will remain in the EU, and the British province of Northern Ireland open after Brexit.
“We both want to see a deal,” British Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said after talks in Brussels with EU negotiator Michel Barnier. “The meeting overran, which signals we were getting into the detail.”
“There is a still a lot of work to do but there is a common purpose to secure a deal,” Barclay said, adding that Juncker and Johnson also both wanted a deal.
Leaving the EU would be Britain’s biggest shift in trade and foreign policy for more than 40 years and deprive the 28-nation bloc of one of its biggest economies. The EU has set a deadline for a deal to be reached by Oct. 31.
British parliament has rejected the deal May agreed with the EU. Johnson has said he wants to secure an amended deal at an EU summit on Oct. 17-18 but that Britain will leave the bloc if that is not possible. He will meet European Council Donald Tusk at the United Nations in New York next week.
Ireland is crucial to any Brexit solution. Unless the Irish border backstop is removed or amended, Johnson will not be able to win parliamentary approval but Ireland and the EU are unwilling to sign a deal without a solution to the border.
The EU fears a hard border could cause unrest in Northern Ireland and undermine the fragile peace provided by a 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of violence between Irish nationalists seeking a united Ireland, and the British security forces and pro-British “unionists.”
The Withdrawal Agreement that was agreed with the EU last November says the United Kingdom will remain in a customs union “unless and until” alternative arrangements are found to avoid the return of border controls in Ireland.
The British government, worried the backstop will trap it in the EU’s orbit for years to come, wants to remove it and find a solution before December 2020, when a planned transition period ends.
The British pound fell from a two-month high after the Financial Times reported Johnson had told colleagues he did not expect to reach a full “legally operable” deal next month.
One EU official said Britain’s proposals are not enough to replace the backstop.
“As it stands, it is unacceptable,” the official said. “If they don’t really change their approach, we are at an impasse.”
The European Commission said in a memo that Britain’s plans “fall short of satisfying all the objectives” of finding an alternative to the backstop, Sky News reported.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the mood music had improved and that both sides wanted a deal but that they were not close to an agreement.
“There is certainly a lot of commentary now and some of it is spin I think, in the context of where we are,” he told the BBC. “We need to be honest with people and say that we’re not close to that deal right now.”
“Everybody needs a dose of reality here, there is still quite a wide gap between what the British government have been talking about in terms of the solutions that they are proposing, and I think what Ireland and the EU will be able to support.”
Britain said on Thursday it had shared documents with Brussels setting out ideas for a Brexit deal, but an EU diplomat described them as a “smokescreen” that would not prevent a disorderly exit on the Oct. 31 departure date.
Coveney, Ireland’s second most powerful politician, said a no-deal could lead to civil unrest.
“Trade across 300 road crossings that has created a normality and a peace that is settled on the island of Ireland for the last 20 years, that now faces significant disruption,” he said. “That is what we’re fighting for here.