E Timor to take part in first Olympics

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The Independent Online

The nascent nation of East Timor wants to take part in its first Olympics, but the International Olympic Committee says the devastated territory can't meet even the most basic conditions to enter the Sydney games in September.

"All we want is to participate in the opening and closing ceremonies, to fly the flag of the U.N. Transitional Authority and our own flag and to play our national anthem," Jose Ramos-Horta, Nobel peace laureate and vice president of the Timorese National Council of Resistance, said Tuesday.

The United Nations is administering the former Indonesian province during its transition to independence.

Indonesian troops and their militia allies devastated much of the half-island territory last year after a U.N.-sponsored independence referendum.

Most of its sporting facilities have been burned down or turned into refugee camps.

In the past, a handful East Timorese athletes have represented other countries, including Australia and Indonesia, in boxing and gymnastics.

Horta, who serves as East Timor's unofficial foreign minister, said participation at the Sydney games would be the first opportunity for his country to appear on the world stage.

"We plan at the end of April to elect a national Olympic committee and apply to join the IOC," Horta said in a telephone interview from Geneva.

But IOC spokesman Franklin Servan-Schreiber said East Timor does not currently fulfill the criteria to have its national Olympic committee recognized.

These included being a fully independent state with at least five sports federations operating on its territory, he said.

Also, the IOC has no record of any athlete in East Timor currently preparing for the games, Servan-Schreiber said in a telephone interview from the governing body's headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Still this could change in the future, he said.

"We remain extremely eager to welcome East Timor as soon as these conditions are met," he said.