East Timor president caustiously back refugee plan SYDNEY -East Timor's president said Wednesday he supports in principle

an Austra lian plan to turn his country into a regional center for processing asylum seeke rs but does not want his tiny, impoverished nation to become an "island prison." Jose Ramos Horta said Wednesday that Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard had raised the proposal with him but that there were few details so far. He told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television he supported the plan in princi ple, but only if East Timor's government agrees and if the facility were a tempo rary stop for people who would be resettled in other countries. Ramos Horta, awarded the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for helping end Indonesia's brut al rule of East Timor, serves in the largely ceremonial role of president, while the government is led by Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao. "I would never turn my back on people who flee violence in Afghanistan, or whate ver," Ramos Horta said. "But on a temporary basis, so that they can be sent to a third country where they can start life with dignity and with promise of a bett er future." "I wouldn't want Timor-Leste to become an island prison for displaced persons fl eeing violence," Ramos Horta said, using the country's official name. East Timor, which has a population of just 1 million, has faced political turmoi l and chronic unemployment since gaining independence in 2002 after nearly four centuries of foreign domination. The half-island nation would need financial help to manage a center. It would al so need assistance to feed, house and clothe asylum seekers and give them medica l care and jobs in the community. East Timor's Deputy Prime Minister Jose Luis Guterres said Tuesday he doubted hi s country had the capacity to run such a center. Gillard on Tuesday proposed that East Timor would become a U.N.-approved process ing hub for asylum seekers as a way to stem a recent influx of boat people tryin g to reach Australia from Afghanistan and other countries. The asylum seekers ha ve become an issue in elections expected to be held within months. On Wednesday, Gillard announced a $21 million (25 million Australian dollar) pac kage to help Asian countries combat people-smuggling. Indonesia will get patrol boats and planes, while police in Malaysia, Thailand, Pakistan and Sri Lanka wil l get surveillance and other equipment. The new policy brings Gillard's government closer into line with the conservativ e opposition by keeping asylum seekers out of the country while their applicatio ns are processed, though it retains humanitarian protections sought by the Unite d Nations. The opposition is campaigning on a return to an earlier policy that detained asy lum seekers in camps in Pacific island countries without U.N. oversight. Many as ylum seekers spent years languishing in the camps under the plan, which was heav ily criticized by the U.N.. Conservative leader Tony Abbot dismissed Gillard's plan as an empty election pro mise with little international support and said the center would never be built. But Gillard said she would be "relentlessly pursuing" the policy as a solution f or Australia and other countries. She did not name any, but Indonesia has had to deal with asylum seekers passing through on their way to Australia. Thailand an d Malaysia have faced asylum seekers from Myanmar. "The idea is that for the whole region, not just for Australia, but for the whol e region, it would be a better solution and a more durable solution to have a re gional processing center where asylum-seeker claims are processed," Gillard said . (This version CORRECTS quote in 5th paragraph, replacing `plead' with `flee'.)