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Australia Welcomes East Timor Independence

The Hon Alexander Downer, MP
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia

20 May 2002

I had the great pleasure today of joining world leaders and dignitaries from more than 80 nations in witnessing the birth of a nation. Today’s ceremony in the early hours of the morning in Dili marked the end of East Timor’s long struggle for independence and the entry of our newest neighbour into the global community of nations.

On behalf of all Australians, the Prime Minister and I travelled to Dili to congratulate the people of East Timor and to welcome East Timor onto the world stage. The range of countries represented at the independence ceremonies demonstrated the remarkable support and friendship enjoyed by East Timor round the world. Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s presence was a positive symbol of the new relations being built in our region and augurs well for East Timor’s future.

We witnessed the swearing in of the first President of independent East Timor, Xanana Gusmao, and of the new nation’s first Government led by Dr Mari Alkatiri. We were honoured to be present for the inaugural sitting of Parliament in the parliamentary building which Australia helped refurbish as an expression of our commitment to an independent and democratic East Timor. We also held a ceremony to mark the start of formal diplomatic relations between Australia and East Timor.

The Timor Sea Treaty, which the Prime Minister and Dr Mari Alkatiri signed today, is of enormous significance. It will open the way for major oil and gas developments in the Timor Sea and will underpin East Timor’s economic future and provide substantial benefits for Australia.

It is to the great credit of East Timor’s new Government that it moved on the first day of independence to sign the UN Charter and to seek membership of the United Nations.

The Australian delegation gave East Timor’s leaders and people the firm assurance that we will continue to support them as they build a peaceful and prosperous future.


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