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East Timor, Australia and Indonesia hold ‘historic’ trilateral talks

East Timor, Australia and Indonesia hold ‘historic’ trilateral talks

In what has been described as an “historic occasion,” the Governments of Australia and Indonesia today met with authorities from East Timor for the first-ever trilateral talks, as the United Nations Transitional Administration (UNTAET) highlighted the key role of East Timorese officials in representing the territory just three months away from its independence.

UNTAET chief Sergio Vieira de Mello, who led the UN-East Timor delegation, took a low-key role during the talks, emphasizing instead that the territory’s leaders were the true regional partners of Australia and Indonesia. East Timor is scheduled to proclaim independence on 20 May.

For his part, East Timor Chief Minister Marí Alkatiri stressed that the ties “between our three countries go far beyond geography. There is a strong emotional link between our three countries that surpasses economic or political or other quantifiable factors. It is that special ingredient in our relations that makes today’s meeting so important.”

The three-hour meeting in Denpasar, Indonesia, started with an open agenda as the parties discussed the upcoming independence celebrations; economic development; cooperation on education and vocational training; refugees; the future of southwest Pacific relations; and cooperation on other maters of common interest such as security, smuggling and trafficking of people.

Both Australia and Indonesia welcomed an East Timor proposal to have the three countries’ police services meet at a technical level very soon in Dili to discuss security issues. Australia also announced a $2 million contribution to the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Special Fund for former East Timorese civil servants of the Indonesian Public Administration.

Afterwards, Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said the talks had been “very frank, cordial and fruitful” and that the ministers had agreed to continue the triangular consultations in the future. “They will contribute to intensify the relations we have with East Timor and Australia.”

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer of Australian described the meeting as “a very substantial step forward in our relations and a commitment to regional stability and security.”

“I believe this trilateral meeting is particularly historic,” Mr. Downer added. “I think it is almost an extraordinary thing that in 2002 we're now the three of us getting together and working towards a successful future.”

East Timor’s delegation also included Senior Minister for Foreign Affairs José Ramos-Horta and other senior members of the Second Transitional Government.