E. Timor president cautiously backs refugee plan

Published: Wednesday, July 7, 2010 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 7, 2010 at 12:08 a.m.

SYDNEY - East Timor's president supports in principle an Australian plan to turn his country into a regional center for processing asylum seekers, but says he does not want his country to become an "island prison."

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Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard leaves the Lowy Institute after making a policy announcement on refugees Tuesday, July 6, 2010, in Sydney. Australia's new prime minister announced plans to send boat people to East Timor to have their refugee claims assessed, in a policy shift aimed at defusing a politically and racially charged debate at home ahead of looming elections. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Jose Ramos Horta said Wednesday that Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard had raised the proposal with him but that there were few details so far.

He told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television that he supported the plan in principle, but only if East Timor's government agrees and if the facility were a temporary stop for people who would be resettled in other countries.

Ramos Horta, awarded the 1996 Nobel peace prize for helping end Indonesia's brutal rule of East Timor, serves in the largely ceremonial role of president, while the government is led by Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.

"I would never turn my back on people who plead violence in Afghanistan, or whatever," Ramos Horta said. "But on a temporary basis so that they can be sent to a third country where they can start life with dignity and with promise of a better future."

"I wouldn't want Timor-Leste to become an island prison for displaced persons fleeing violence," Ramos Horta said, using the country's official name.

East Timor would need financial help to manage a center. The country would also need assistance to feed, house and clothe asylum seekers and give them medical care and jobs in the community.

Gillard on Tuesday proposed that East Timor become a U.N.-approved processing hub for asylum seekers as a way to stem a recent influx of boat people from Afghanistan and other countries. The asylum seekers have become an issue in elections expected to be held within months.

SOURCE: www.heraldtribune.com

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