Subject: Barrister to rule on who owns Timor's land

The Australian May 22, 2000

Barrister to rule on who owns Timor's land

By David Nason

MELBOURNE barrister and former Northern Territory chief magistrate Ian Gray has been given one of the most crucial jobs in East Timor - the design and implementation of a system to resolve disputes and claims over land.

The Monash University-trained Mr Gray, 50, officially accepted an offer to run UNTAET's Land and Property Commission in East Timor yesterday. His six-month term is effective from the beginning of next month.

Mr Gray, a former commissioner on the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation between 1995 and 1997, said his brief was to "achieve certainty in relation to land ownership, occupation and use" as soon as possible.

"This will necessarily involve wide and deep consultations with the East Timorese people as to the systems which have traditionally and customarily operated in both the country and the towns and what they want to operate from now on," Mr Gray said.

"Implicit in the job is that the sooner there is certainty over land, the sooner there will be economic stability and the opportunity for greater job creation."

Mr Gray said his work for the Darwin-based Northern Land Council in the 1980s had given him valuable experience for his new job. "Working with the NLC gave me an awareness of the need to consult widely and to be culturally sensitive with land," he said. "It helped me come to terms with resolving disputes in ways other than by traditionally accepted Western European ways."

Mr Gray left the NLC to become a magistrate in 1990 and was appointed NT chief magistrate in 1992.

He resigned the position in 1997 as the Northern Territory's controversial system of mandatory sentencing for property crime came into force.

The focus of the international response to the crisis in East Timor is shifting from relief to rehabilitation and reconstruction.

International donors who met in Tokyo in December have pledged more than $US520 million ($912 million) over the next three years to rebuild East Timor and to ensure its smooth transition to independence.

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