SINGAPORE - East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta said Wednesday it would be symbolic if his fledgling country gained Asean membership next year when former occupier Indonesia takes over as chair of the regional bloc.
"If it is under Indonesia and Timor-Leste joins Asean as the 11th member at the summit in Jakarta in November 2011, it would elevate Indonesia's statesmanship, it would elevate ASEAN," Ramos-Horta said in Singapore.
As chair, it will host the group's annual summit and related meetings and steer the agenda for the year.
East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, was invaded by Indonesia in 1975 as it moved towards formal independence, starting a brutal 24-year occupation.
It won its freedom in a 1999 UN-backed referendum that was marred by violence as Indonesian-backed militias laid waste to much of the country in a scorched earth campaign that displaced hundreds of thousands.
East Timor gained formal independence in 2002.
Ramos-Horta said Asean members had voiced support for East Timor's bid to join the bloc, and he proposed that his country be allowed a timeframe to meet any membership commitments once it was admitted.
"We have visited all Asean countries and everyone has agreed politically that Timor can join," said Ramos-Horta.
"Of course there are questions about stability in Timor (and) can we deliver on commitments like attending meetings," he added.
"We believe that more important is that we join now and then have a five-year period whereby we take steps, with Asean support, to fulfill any obligations, criteria that (are) still missing at the time that we are joining Asean."