East Timor seeks asylum seeker solution

EAST Timor has not ruled out involvement in a centre for processing asylum seekers but the idea, mooted by Australia, must be dealt with regionally, its foreign minister says.

But Dili says Canberra has not presented a clear and complete picture of its proposal.

Shortly after taking office this month Australia's new Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she was in talks with East Timor about housing Asian migrants who arrive off northern Australia in rickety people-smuggling boats.

"We are open for discussion but I think it's important to reiterate that we should involve our regional partners as well," East Timor's Foreign Minister Zacarias Albano da Costa said in Vietnam today.

Questions over the centre's location and how much planning had gone into the proposal were then raised when Ms Gillard later said East Timor was only "one possibility" for the facility.

There have been no formal talks on the matter and Australia had "not even presented a clear and complete picture", Mr da Costa said ahead of the annual ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) security talks.

Australia and East Timor are among the group's 27 members meeting on Friday in Vietnam.

The asylum seekers issue is expected to dominate Australia's election campaigns ahead of the August 21 vote.

Australia processes asylum seekers at Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean, but facilities have become overwhelmed and forced the reopening of centres on the mainland.

East Timor's Parliament has voted against any plan to set up a refugee detention centre but da Costa said that if his government received concrete proposals, "we will look at them".

ARF and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations should be part of any talks on the issue, Mr da Costa said, adding that he expected it to come up on the sidelines of this week's meetings in Hanoi.

Indonesia's Foreign Minister last week also spoke of the need for a "regional framework" to deal with people smuggling and trafficking.

Mr Da Costa also said he welcomed the greater openness recently displayed by Australian energy firm Woodside over the processing of Timor Sea gas.

He said that during a visit to Australia last month he and East Timor's president, Jose Ramos-Horta, met the chief executive of energy firm that heads a joint venture group proposing to develop the Greater Sunrise gas field straddling the maritime boundary between the two nations.

Woodside had preferred a floating platform for processing the natural gas while East Timor wanted it piped to the half-island nation for processing on land.

Mr Da Costa said the company is now "more open" to discuss three options, which also include a pipeline to Australia's Northern Territory.

Australia and East Timor have agreed to divide projected multi-billion dollar revenues 50-50 from Greater Sunrise.

East Timor was occupied by Indonesia from 1975 until 1999 when Timorese voted overwhelmingly to split, sparking an orgy of violence and destruction by Indonesian forces and their militia proxies.

The country remains impoverished and heavily dependent on aid and oil revenues.

Its biggest challenge is to ensure that resources are wisely managed by a "clean and responsive government" so that it can develop healthcare, education and infrastructure, Mr da Costa said.

Meeting such basic priorities will ensure "justice", he said when asked about the concerns of victims and rights groups that perpetrators of abuse under Indonesian rule have gone unpunished.

More than 100,000 East Timorese were killed or starved to death during the occupation.
SOURCE: The Australian

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