Subject: Age: Australia playing dirty over E.Timor lucrative gas fields

The Age April 20, 2002

Australia playing dirty over lucrative gas fields

By Hamish McDonald

A former United States diplomat and United Nations adviser yesterday castigated the Howard Government in front of East Timor's new parliament for closing its legal appeal access over its seabed boundary with Australia.

Peter Galbraith, a former US ambassador to Croatia who negotiated the draft Timor Sea treaty for the UN administration in East Timor last year, was addressing the parliament at a special session in Dili.

Canberra announced on March 25 that it was withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice at The Hague on maritime boundary questions, as well as from a specialist law of the sea tribunal.

"I made the obvious point: if you have a strong case, you don't pull out of the court," Mr Galbraith told The Age after the session. "So Australia's withdrawal from the ICJ is an admission that Australia thinks its case is weak."

Mr Galbraith also criticised Australia's bid to declare that the Timor Sea treaty would not come into force until a "unitisation" agreement over the Greater Sunrise gas field, which straddles a joint development zone in the Timor Sea, was negotiated.

The unitisation agreement was technical, he said, but the principle it was based on - an 80:20 split in Australia's favour for Greater Sunrise ownership - was already in the draft treaty.

"Australia has tried to attach new conditions to the treaty. I said that is unacceptable in international practice," he said. "If Australia were to take a principled stand and give East Timor what it's legally entitled to . . . then East Timor would end up with more." But the Australian Government "is obviously determined not to play it that way".

East Timor's likely new prime minister, Mari Alkatiri, is believed to have contacted Prime Minister Howard over the issues.


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