Subject: Timor sets sea boundaries 

Timor sets sea boundaries Ignoring Australia's Claim (ABC)

AM - Friday, July 12, 2002 8:14

LINDA MOTTRAM: East Timor's fledgling Parliament has made a key decision about the nation's borders, which could be the first big test of its relations with Australia. It's declared a maritime boundary with Australia that would give East Timor full ownership of lucrative oil and gas deposits, which now fall inside Australian waters.

From Darwin, Anne Barker reports.

ANNE BARKER: It's a high stakes gamble that could bring vast wealth to a struggling nation or end in an international legal wrangle. East Timor has formally staked a claim to huge oil and gas reserves that Australia counts as its own, and on a trade visit to Darwin, East Timor's President, Xanana Gusmao, put his nation's cards squarely on the table.

XANANA GUSMAO: We are not asking for less or more than the international law allow us to claim.

ANNE BARKER: East Timor's parliament has approved legislation that puts the maritime boundary with Australia 200 nautical miles from the Timorese coast, well beyond the halfway mark. It takes in all of the lucrative Sunrise field, 80% of which is now in Australian waters, and other vast reserves Australia partly or wholly owns. Jonathan Morrow heads the East Timorese government's Timor Sea office in Dili.

JONATHAN MORROW: Well there's nothing in international law that requires us to limit our claim to a halfway mark. All East Timor is doing is making the maximum claim to which it is entitled under international law.

ANNE BARKER: Do you agree that it could be seen as provocative?

JONATHAN MORROW: No I don't believe that the Australian government will see that as provocative. All we're doing is exercising the right of any newly independent nation, which has no maritime boundaries.

ANNE BARKER: In Australia's eyes, its own territorial waters extend to the edge of the continental shelf, conveniently north of the seabed's biggest spoils. It all depends now on the extent of Australia's goodwill and international law expert, Donald Rothwell, believes Australia has the upper hand.

DONALD ROTHWELL: The Timor Sea Treaty concluded back in May between Australia and East Timor does in fact recognise that there is continuing obligation to negotiate a permanent boundary between the two countries. But of course we know, that Australia has removed itself from the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and as a result it will impossible for East Timor to force this case into the ICJ.

ANNE BARKER: So who's going to ultimately win?

DONALD ROTHWELL: Well that's a very difficult one to say at the moment. I think that there is certainly some prospect of East Timor trying to launch some litigation against Australia, whether that litigation would be successful or not remains to be seen. But it's quite clear that, as I said, from this action that East Timor is not going to step down or step away from this particular dispute.

LINDA MOTTRAM: International law expert, Don Rothwell, from Sydney University, speaking to Anne Barker.


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