|Subject: AGE: E. Timor denies oil-security
The Age August 1 2002
Timor denies oil-security links
By Craig Skehan
Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
East Timorese Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri last night denied his government had tried to link negotiations on sharing oil and gas revenues to Australia providing maritime surveillance in the Timor Sea.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, in Brunei for regional security talks, said yesterday that the issue of surveillance had been discussed in recent months with East Timorese leaders.
But he said it had not been linked by East Timor to the vexed issue of forthcoming negotiations on maritime boundaries that impact on the lucrative Greater Sunrise gas field.
East Timor has signalled that even if maritime boundaries are not changed, it wants a larger share of royalties from the field.
Australia and East Timor already have a treaty covering other parts of the Timor Sea, including a joint oil and gas development area.
A report in The Australian Financial Review yesterday said that East Timor had asked Australia to take over part of its maritime security in a new treaty that would essentially cover oil and gas issues.
But in a written statement last night, Dr Alkatiri said the suggestion that East Timor's Foreign Minister, Jose Ramos-Horta, had proposed reducing its revenue claim in return for maritime surveillance was inaccurate.
"There is no proposal to link surveillance with petroleum revenues from the Timor Sea," Dr Alkatiri said.
"I have been in contact with the Foreign Minister, who has made it clear that he was misquoted.
"The Foreign Minister simply said that East Timor and Australia would need to cooperate on the important matter of maritime security, as an entirely separate matter from discussions on oil and gas."
In the past there have been sharp differences between Dr Alkatiri and Mr Ramos-Horta.
It was not clear last night if there was a split between the two on any linking of surveillance to the wider revenue negotiations.
Mr Downer had brief talks with Mr Ramos-Horta in Brunei and a series of negotiations on the Greater Sunrise field is planned for coming weeks.
Australia recently decided not to be subject to the rulings of the International Court of Justice over maritime boundaries.
Even if East Timor could not win a legal battle, it could embarrass Canberra internationally if agreement could not be reached on revenue sharing from the Greater Sunrise field.
Already there is a lobby in Australia protesting that the government is bullying East Timor, which faces great challenges as a poor and vulnerable nation.
East Timor: No oil trade-off in bid for Australian sea-patrol aid - Ramos Horta
East Timor's foreign minister said Wednesday he was seeking an agreement with Canberra for Australian aid in patrolling the island nations's territorial waters, but denied Dili was willing to "trade" such help for oil resources.
Saying Timor would not have the capacity to patrol its waters during the next decade, Jose Ramos Horta told Lusa his suggestion aimed primarily at blocking illegal fishing, clandestine immigration, drugs trafficking and "other crimes".
Ramos Horta, speaking from the capital of Brunei where he was attending an ASEAN meeting, denied Australian media reports that he had offered concessions to Canberra in exchange for such aid.
"I never spoke of such. It's not a trade-off accord", he stressed, adding that outstanding issues on bilateral development of offshore oil and gas reserves in the Sea of Timor involved "separate negotiations". Ramos Horta also said that 56 purported refugees from Sri Lanka, whose reportedly unseaworthy freighter anchored outside the port of Dili Monday, would not be allowed to land.
"The only hypothesis is for these people to agree to repatriation", he said, adding that they were "not humanitarian or political refugees". Officials in Dili said the Sri Lankans would not be allowed to land for fears they could try forcing entry into the Australian embassy or the consulate of New Zealand, their alleged final destination.
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