India looks forward to Timor Leste joining Asean: Sushma Swaraj

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New Delhi, March 28 (IANS) India looks forward to the southeast Asian nation of Timor Leste joining the Asean bloc, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said on Monday.

She said this during a meeting with Timor Leste’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Hermani Coelho da Silva, according to external affairs ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup.

This is the first visit to India by a foreign minister of Timor Leste since the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries in 2003.

Then minister of state for external affairs Omar Abdullah represented India in Timor Leste’s independence day celebrations in May 2002.

According to Swarup, Sushma Swaraj said that Timor Leste’s accession to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) would help India extend more support and cooperation under the bloc’s mechanism.

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She also expressed concern that bilateral trade between India and Timor Leste stood at only $3 million and said that both sides should explore new avenues of trade and investment.

She said Timor Leste could benefit from India’s advancement in the health sector and low cost medicines.

There is a draft memorandum of understanding (MoU) on health cooperation that is under discussion between the two countries.

Stating that conclusion of the MoU soon would benefit both countries, Sushma Swaraj said that India was happy to provide a fully equipped ambulance to Timor Leste in January this year.

The ambulance can serve as a mobile operation theatre.

“The external affairs minister also recalled that we had offered to sign an MoU for setting up a centre of excellence in IT in Timor Leste which has been pending since 2004,” Swarup said.

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In terms of capacity building, Sushma Swaraj said that India could increase Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) training slots and Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) scholarships for Timor Leste.

She also said that India could also consider imparting training to Timor Leste diplomats in the Foreign Service Institute here.

“The minister for foreign affairs and cooperation thanked the external affairs minister and said that Timor Leste had received a lot of support from India,” Swarup said.

Da Silva told Sushma Swaraj that relations between India and Timor Leste went back centuries from the time Goa was under Portuguese rule.

Currently, Timor Leste has a population of 1.2 million and the median age of 18.6 years.

As such skills training for youth was very important, the visiting minister said.

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“He invited Indian private sector companies to participate in infrastructure development, agriculture development and capacity building,” Swarup said.

Da Silva also said that 11 oil blocks were also open for exploration by India.

“He said that a delegation of Indian businessmen could visit Timor Leste for which they would identify the appropriate sectors,” the external affairs ministry spokesman said.

The visiting minister also requested an early meeting of the joint commission between the two countries at vice minister level.

“The two ministers also reviewed regional and global developments,” Swarup said.

“Both countries have cooperated closely with each other in UN fora,” he added.

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