Fri, 30 Nov 2001

Xanana pledges closer ties with West Timor

Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Kupang

East Timor's prospective first president Jose Alexandre Xanana Gusmao wrapped up his four-day visit to the country's neighboring province of East Nusa Tenggara, pledging to further improve bilateral ties with Indonesia.

Speaking before flying home to Dili on Thursday, he specifically said he would seek closer relations between his country and the province due to their similar cultures.

East Timor depends much on Indonesia because of the latter's important role in developing the territory in the past, he said.

"Indonesia, particularly West Timor, is East Timor's closest neighbor. Therefore, cooperation between the two countries should run well," he said.

He promised to invite foreign investors in East Timor to visit the border area of West Timor to explore possibilities of building and developing businesses there.

"After I arrive back in East Timor, I will tell foreign businesspeople there to come to West Timor to look into potential businesses here," Xanana said.

He also said he could understand the Indonesian government's decision to halt humanitarian aid in January, 2002 for thousands of East Timorese refugees currently living in the province.

The decision was made after careful consideration, the East Timor leader said. Officials in Jakarta have said the halt to the aid was intended to speed up the repatriation of refugees from West Timor.

"I think the Indonesian people and government have given the best service to the East Timorese refugees who have lived in the camps here for two years," Xanana said.

He reiterated his earlier appeal for them to soon return to East Timor to decrease the burden on cash-strapped Indonesia.

"Indonesia's burden is already heavy with its 200 million plus people. So, the refugees should urgently return home to work together to develop our own country," he said.