Subject: LUSA: Australia preying on Dili's weak oil bargaining position - PM

11-11-2002 20:16:00. Notícia nº 4326755

East Timor: Australia preying on Dili's weak oil bargaining position - PM

Dili, Nov 11 (Lusa) - Australia is using East Timor's vulnerability as one of the world's poorest nations to gain leverage in negotiations on the carving up of oil resources in the Timor Sea, Dili's prime minister said Monday.

Mari Alkatiri told Lusa that Canberra is trying to put the ratification of the Timor Gap treaty and a utilization agreement for the Greater Sunrise gas field "in the same bag".

The Timor Gap treaty, signed between the two countries on May 20, paves the way for a joint petroleum development zone between the two countries. Under the deal, Timor will receive 20 percent of revenues in the zone, and Australia the remaining 80 percent.

Greater Sunrise lies 20 percent in Timor's existing maritime boundaries and 80 percent in Australia's - according to Canberra - and Dili is seeking the utilization agreement for the field to harmonize tax regimes and administration of the lucrative gas field.

"Australia is not treating Timor as an equal and thinks because we desperately need (oil) resources that we will settle for 20 percent, to their 80 percent", said Alkatiri, referring to the Timor Gap treaty.

"Obviously, this is not the case. Naturally we need resources and therefore the treaty, but we will in no way allow our need to weaken our negotiating position", said Dili's head of government.

Alkatiri said Dili is still committed to ratifying the Timor Gap treaty and concluding the Greater Sunrise utilization agreement by Dec. 31. Delays in wrapping up both pending deals were due to "obstacles we have encountered on Australia`s part", added Alkatiri.

The Timor Gap treaty is a "provisional accord" and "a document that does not establish maritime frontiers, but a joint exploration zone", said Alkatiri, adding that as such, the treaty has "nothing to do with the utilization agreement".

"This treaty must be ratified as it is. The utilization accord is essentially technical....But the truth is that there is still a question of frontiers to settle", said Alkatiri, adding that Dili had already adopted a line drawn between the two nations as a basis for its boundary claim, whereas Australia's is based on its continental shelf.

Meanwhile, Australia's opposition Democrat Party says it opposes the ratification of the Timor Gap treaty, saying maritime borders with East Timor must be defined within five years. If there is no agreement by this deadline, say the Democrats, the International Court of Justice should decide on the matter.

ASP/CJB -Lusa-

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