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Timor-Leste Now a UN Member - 2002-09-27

At the United Nations Friday, the small Southeast Asian nation of East Timor became the 191st member of the global organization.

The Democratic Republic of East Timor became the world's newest nation, and the first nation founded in the 21st century, on May 20. The former Pacific territory's sovereignty came after three years of U.N. administration, centuries of colonization by Portugal, and more than two decades of occupation by Indonesia.

East Timor's president, Xanana Gusmao, declared entry into the United Nations a great triumph for the country he affectionately calls, The Crocodile Nation.

"We are today transformed, treading firmly on our land, and sailing safely in our sea," he said. "For we are now identified as a sovereign and independent nation in the international community. Peace and stability are what our people must yearn for after emerging from decades of independence struggles, and more recently from two decades of suffering."

The nation of 760,000 people remains one of the poorest nations in the world.

East Timor came under U.N. rule shortly after its people voted overwhelmingly in August 1999 to break free from Indonesia, which had seized the territory in 1975 after Portugal pulled out. About a thousand East Timorese died at the hands of anti-independence forces.

5,000 U.N. troops, 850 police officers and 400 civilian staff remain in the country, but officials say the mission is gradually turning over its functions to East Timorese.

Despite the ongoing transformation of East Timor, President Gusmao says his nation is eager to participate immediately in international affairs.

"We join the voice of the world in the war on terrorism," he said. "Despite the enormous demands on our process and the developing nature of our country, we will not ease our vigilance and determination in uprooting extremism and radicalism that favor or contribute to terror against innocents. Timor-Leste shall never be a sanctuary for those who terrorize innocent civilians."

Following the General Assembly induction, East Timor's flag was raised for the first time in front of U.N. headquarters.