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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has agreed in principle to admit East Timor as the group’s 11th member, the bloc said in a statement on Friday, November 11.
The half-island nation, officially called Timor Leste, will also be granted observer status at high-level ASEAN meetings, the bloc said after regional leaders met in Phnom Penh for a summit.
“We…agreed in principle to admit Timor Leste to be the 11th member of ASEAN,” the statement said, adding that next steps would include a “roadmap for full membership” to be submitted at next year’s summit.
The East Timorese voted for independence from a brutal occupation by neighboring Indonesia in a 1999 UN-supervised referendum, and the country was officially recognized by the United Nations in 2002, making it Asia’s youngest democracy.
The resource-rich country of 1.3 million people immediately started the process of accession to ASEAN, but only formally applied for membership in 2011.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the summits, Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Assistant Secretary Daniel Espiritu said before a years-long process would have to be followed prior to the grant of full membership to East Timor.
“Not because we would like to delay their entry but to make sure they are really ready for the obligations and responsibilities of joining ASEAN,” said Espiritu.
“In ASEAN, it’s not just membership. You’re entering a free trade area, other agreements that involve the day to day operations of government. It’s very important that they know how to go about that,” he added.
ASEAN nations are expected to help its newest would-be member in “upgrading” its capacities in governance and in trade. – With reports from Bea Cupin/Rappler.com