Tag: Timor Leste

East Timor’s present and future leaders keep its ASEAN aspiration alive

Despite their political differences, outgoing and incoming leadership of East Timor said that its bid to become the 11th member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a mutual goal that they continue to strive.

Outgoing Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said East Timor’s ASEAN membership is “a very long dream.”

“This is one of the few things that is a consensus between the leadership of Timor Leste, despite the differences,” he said in an interview last month at a hotel near the headquarters of his Fretilin party.

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East Timor Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri with his wife Marina Ribeiro Alkatiri, daughter Nurima Ribeiro Alkatiri and son-in-law Machel Silveira, pose for a photograph after an interview on May 12, 2018. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

Alkatiri also described Indonesia as East Timor’s “biggest supporter” in its efforts to join ASEAN.

Indonesia was one of the regional bloc’s founding countries when it was established in 1967, and is regarded as its de facto leader. Indonesia endorsed East Timor’s ASEAN bid when it formally submitted its application in 2011 during Indonesia’s ASEAN chairmanship.

Alkatiri has been leading a short-lived, minority government and the party lost to a three-party coalition led by independence hero Xanana Gusmao’s National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) in the May 12 parliamentary election.

Gusmao, who is expected to nominate former president Taur Matan Ruak as the next prime minister this week, said East Timor is doing its best to become an ASEAN member.

“We understand some (member) countries think we are not ready, but sooner or later, we will be a member,” Gusmao said in an interview at his party CNRT headquarters.

Singapore, the current chair, has been reluctant to welcome East Timor into the bloc, but has said it looked forward to East Timor meeting the requirements to allow it to become a member.

So far, East Timor has met two of the requirements to be an ASEAN member: The country is located in Southeast Asia and has embassies in all 10 member states.

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said after hosting an ASEAN leaders’ summit in April that the topic was discussed during the forum, but “there was no extended discussion of the matter in this meeting.”

Luis da Costa Ximenes, director of the Dili-based conflict-prevention NGO Belun said there is a different level of regional engagement with fellow civil society organizations in neighboring countries.

He added that members of the network have been lending support for each other in their advocacy on various issues such as human rights and development.

“There are national East Timor issues, such as illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing that is also a regional issue,” he said.

“Civil societies in East Timor is already part of the civil societies network in Southeast Asia and at this level, we always campaign for East Timor’s admission to ASEAN,” Ximenes said.

Veteran Thai journalist and long time ASEAN observer Kavi Chongkittavorn said it is Singapore that East Timor, which is one of the most democratic country in the region, has to convince to secure support for its ASEAN admission.

“East Timor membership in ASEAN is long overdue,” Kavi said, acknowledging that East Timor officials would still need capacity-building training and other preparations in the political security, economy and social cultural communities, as the other previous new members did before they gained admission to the bloc.

He added that East Timor’s admission to ASEAN is also about the democratic attitude in the region and Thailand, which will assume the next bloc chairmanship after Singapore, would admit East Timor for good.

“East Timor’s membership to ASEAN will increase the democratic weight within the grouping,” he said.

Read the full interview with East Timor’s outgoing Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri in Arab News

East Timor’s Muslim minority welcomes Ramadan

Muslims in Dili, the capital of predominantly Catholic East Timor, have welcomed Ramadan with great joy.

Julio Muslim Antonio da Costa, the imam of Dili’s largest mosque An Nur, said as the holy month approached, the mosque council set up a committee to organize Ramadan-related activities, such as preparing meals for iftar (the breaking of the fast at sunset) and collecting alms.

“We had up to 400 people for iftar in on first and second day of Ramadan and we prepare the food everyday throughout the month,” da Costa said.

Some congregation members stay in the mosque for the rest of the evening to perform the Taraweeh prayer and listen to sermons delivered by clerics from neighboring countries.

The clerics also “deliver sermons in other parts of the country, where there are smaller Muslim communities,” da Costa said in an interview at the mosque.

Every Sunday afternoon, Nurul Habibah, 28, organizes Qur’an recital with her fellow members of Muslim women.

“We have sermons and recital after the Asr prayer, and we involve children from the adjoining orphanage,” said Nurul who hails from Lombok island in Indonesia and whose husband, Fawwaz Akmal Fragoso, is a Muslim convert.

Muslims make up about 0.3 percent out of East Timor’s 1.2 million population, most of them concentrated in Dili.

Outgoing Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, whose Fretilin party lost in parliamentary elections on May 12, is a Muslim of Yemeni descent.

“There is no problem with religion in my country. The problem is only when you mix religion with politics. But it’s a problem at the high level. There is no problem at the people level,” Alkatiri said in an interview at a hotel near the Fretilin party headquarters.

Despite its Catholic-majority population and the church having great influence, East Timor is secular and Muslims live in peace and harmony with the rest of the society. Both Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha are public holidays in the country.

“Every Eid-Al-Fitr, the President comes to An Nur after Eid prayer to celebrate the day with the Muslim community. It is a symbol of religious tolerance in East Timor,” da Costa said.

“What makes the Muslim community even more thriving here is the presence of Indonesian Muslims from Java island and Makassar in South Sulawesi,” President of Center of East Timor Islamic Community, Arif Abdullah Sagran, said.

The offices of the president and the prime minister, as well as other government offices, send livestock for sacrifice to the mosque for the Eid Al-Adha festivities, Sagran said.

“But there were times when the leaders’ offices sent the animals on Eid Al-Fitr instead of Eid Al-Adha,” he chuckled.

Finding halal food is still a problem in the country and there used to be a misperception that food was halal as long as it was cleanly cooked, Sagran said.

“The lingering misperception now is that food is halal as long as it doesn’t contain pork. We don’t have yet a special body to regulate about halal food. But for the time being, we can get halal food and meat from Indonesian traders here,” da Costa said.

An Nur, which is located in Dili’s Campo Alor neighborhood, was built in 1950s during the Portuguese colonization of East Timor. It was developed further during Indonesia’s occupation and officiated in March 1981 by then-Indonesian military commander in East Timor, Brig. Gen. Dading Kalbuadi.

“After our independence in 2002, the government built two towers in the mosque. Now the mosque can accommodate up to 3,000 people,” da Costa said.

The story has been expanded from its original version in Arab News