East Timor applies to join Asean

By Kate McGeown
BBC News, Jakarta

image captionSome nations back East Timor's membership as soon as possible - like Indonesia

East Timor has formally applied to join the South East Asian regional grouping, Asean.

Foreign Minister Zacarias da Costa signed the application on a trip to Indonesia, the country which is currently chairing the 10-nation bloc.

East Timor wants to become an Asean member as soon as possible.

But critics say that, right now, Asean has enough problems without another poor country adding to its economic burden.

There is little doubt that East Timor will, one day, become a member of Asean - the question is, when.

Some nations back its membership as soon as possible - like Indonesia, East Timor's former occupier until it gained independence 12 years ago.

Formally receiving the application for membership, Indonesia's Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said East Timor was geographically, politically and economically linked to South East Asia's future - and should therefore be welcomed without reservations.

But other Asean members believe the group should focus on helping poorer nations which are already members of Asean - like Burma, Cambodia and Laos - as they prepare for the opening of the group's free trade zone in 2015.

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