Timor leaves door open for refugee centre

    Updated August 19, 2010 13:24:27

East Timor's Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao is keeping an open mind on the Australian proposal to set up a processing centre for asylum-seekers in his country.

While some Timorese politicians have expressed opposition to the idea, Prime Minister Gusmao says a decision can't be made until East Timor sees a concrete proposal from Australia.

Presenter: Sara Everingham
Speakers: Xanana Gusmao, East Timor's prime minister

SARA EVERINGHAM: East Timor's prime minister Xanana Gusmao is well aware of Australia's election. And on Labor's asylum seeker proposal he's remaining diplomatic.

XANANA GUSMAO: I would welcome any detailed plan about the issue. So far we don't have. I understand that it is difficult for the prime ministers or even other people to present right now. They are busy for the elections.

SARA EVERINGHAM: Last month just over half the MPs in East Timor's parliament voted unanimously against the proposal. But Xanana Gusmao is playing down the importance of that vote.

XANANA GUSMAO: As far as I know it is not the parliament, members of parliament. And we are a democratic society. Maybe NGOs also. From Timorese side what we say is that if there are ideas on these, yes come with these ideas and we can discuss. And we can see.

SARA EVERINGHAM: East Timor says it wants to be part of a regional dialogue on asylum seekers but for now doesn't have enough information to make a decision on Australia's proposal.

But the decision might be made for them if the Coalition were to win Saturday's election and once again look to the Pacific island nation of Nauru for offshore processing.

Labor says talks with East Timor are continuing but that negotiations have been restricted by caretaker conventions.

If Australia pursues the East Timor solution Xanana Gusmao will have some conditions. Australia would have to pay for the centre and it would have to be sanctioned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

East Timor's president Jose Ramos-Horta says the most likely location would be East Timor's under-developed south coast. It's where Timor's government wants to build an onshore gas processing plant to boost the local economy.

But the Gusmao government says decisions will be made on humanitarian grounds. Mr Gusmao says East Timor might be small but is willing to help people in need.

source: ABC RADIO

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