Subject: East Timor sees Australia sea treaty in 2001

East Timor sees Australia sea treaty in 2001

LISBON, Feb 16 (Reuters) - East Timor expects to conclude a treaty with Australia defining a maritime border and sharing oil revenues between the two countries this year, Timorese economic spokesman Mari Alkatiri said on Friday.

Alkatiri reiterated East Timor's claims for the boundary to be drawn half-way across a stretch of sea known as the Timor Gap, giving the Asian territory the lion's share of oil revenues potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

"We hope to able to conclude a treaty with Australia before independence, which means some time this year," said Alkatiri, economic spokesman for the Timorese National Resistance Council.

"I can affirm that Australia, in the last two informal rounds of talks we had, has shown herself to be more sensitive to our arguments," he added in Lisbon after signing an economic cooperation agreement with Portugal.

No boundary is currently defined but oil revenues were shared equally between Australia and Indonesia -- which occupied East Timor from 1975 to 1999 -- under a 1991 treaty.

Since East Timor voted for independence in a 1999, the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) took over Indonesia's position.

Alkatiri said the prior treaty had "no type of validity" for East Timor, which UNTAET is preparing for full independence.

"We assumed the terms temporarily, not so much for the countries involved, but for the multinational companies which are operating, to create stability," he said.

Alkatiri said international law favoured a half-way boundary, rather than the 50-50 share-out in the 1991 treaty.

"It (50-50) is a point that has been surpassed," Alkatiri said. He declined to say what current percentage of revenues had been agreed for Timor and said Timor would be flexible.

"We will be content with whatever is the final result of the negotiations," he said.

The 800,000 residents of the former Portuguese colony overwhelmingly voted in 1999 to end Indonesian rule.

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