23 May 2012

East Timor's head Taur Matan Ruak opens arms to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono

BY:PETER ALFORD, JAKARTA CORRESPONDENT From:The Australian May 21, 2012 12:00AM - EAST Timor's new President, Taur Matan Ruak, has called for an alliance between his country, Australia and Indonesia.

The former guerilla leader and first commander of East Timor's armed forces made the call at a flag-raising ceremony yesterday commemorating the tiny nation's 10th Independence Day.

"With regard to our region, we want to boost the close and friendly relations we have with our neighbouring countries, Indonesia and Australia, and turn them into relations between allies, where our respective states will engage in a mutually respecting, equitable relationship, thus creating an alliance to safeguard the security, peace and wellbeing of our peoples," he said.

Taur Matan Ruak, sworn in on Saturday night to succeed Nobel Peace Prize-winner Jose Ramos Horta, spoke in front of Independence Day guests including Indonesia's leader, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and Governor-General Quentin Bryce.

His speech is not an expression of East Timor policy, although the new President has indicated he wants to influence government thinking on defence and other issues. Australian troops lead the International Stabilisation Force, a peacekeeping contingent despatched in 2006 at the height of a breakdown of law and order preceding the last round of national elections. Providing the July parliamentary elections are as peaceful as was the presidential campaign, the ISF will withdraw late this year or early next year.

Australian and East Timorese officials are discussing avenues of closer military co-operation, and Canberra has allocated $10 million this year to aid defence.

East Timor's vote for independence in August 1999, after 24 years of heavy-fisted Indonesian occupation, marked a low point in Indonesia's relations with Australia, which had belatedly advocated self-determination.

Taur Matan Ruak is not a member of the government and has no executive powers. Even before his election last month, however, he indicated he would use the office to make policy proposals to the government of the day.

Taur Matan Ruak has a close relationship with the Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao, who is also Defence and Security Minister. His election campaign was strongly backed by Mr Gusmao's governing party, CNRT.

Mr Gusmao will seek another five years as Prime Minister at the elections on July 7, after which it will be Taur Matan Ruak's responsibility to select a leader to form the next government.

Whereas Mr Gusmao's relations with Canberra have often been prickly, he has worked assiduously at strengthening ties with Jakarta. However, the Prime Minister indicated last week an interest in engaging Australia and Indonesia together in economic development. "We have some ideas about sub-regional co-operation that would include neighbouring provinces, including the Northern Territory," he told The Australian on Friday.

The new President called yesterday on political leaders to campaign for the July 7 elections on policies and manifestos, rather than emotion and personalities.

"We have seen this fragmentation occurring again and again and it is a cause of concern, for it tears the national fabric apart," the President said.

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