Subject: ABC: E Timor accuses Aust of exploiting oil reserves Online

PM - East Timor accuses Aust of exploiting oil reserves

[This is the print version of story <>]

PM - Wednesday, 10 December , 2003 18:10:14

Reporter: Graeme Dobell

MARK COLVIN: East Timor has accused Australia of acting unlawfully in exploiting oil reserves in the Timor Sea while negotiations are just starting on a permanent maritime boundary.

And East Timor's supporters say that Australia aims to pump out billions of dollars worth of oil while dragging out the talks for years, by having only two negotiating sessions per year.

The East Timor Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta was in Canberra today for talks on the conduct of the negotiations, as Graeme Dobell reports.

GRAEME DOBELL: Joses Ramos Horta says billions of dollars of resources are at stake and the argument with Australia is heating up.

JOSES RAMOS HORTA: People are very worried about the relationship, the conflict between ours and Australia because of oil, gas resources. I say ‘well, that's very natural.’ When there's a lot of money involved, husbands fight wives, wives fight husbands, particularly ex-husbands and ex-wives fight a lot over wealth, sisters and brothers fight. So we will probably have some tumultuous discussions in the next few months.

GRAEME DOBELL: East Timor's Foreign Minister says the negotiating style of Prime Minister John Howard and his Government is tough, whether you see it from a saintly or secular viewpoint.

JOSES RAMOS HORTA: He never pretends to be neither Tom Cruise or either Mother Teresa. He is what who he is, predictable. We know who we are dealing with, a very straightforward person, and obviously when it comes to billions of dollars that oil experts say exist in the Timor Sea, even if John Howard were Mother Teresa, he would hesitate in giving away what he actually believes belongs to his order.

GRAEME DOBELL: Behind the friendly tone, East Timor is laying out a set of arguments that are getting tougher, specifically that Australia is acting unlawfully by pumping oil from fills in the Timor Sea that Dili says actually belong to East Timor.

Indeed if a maritime boundary was set at the mid-point between Australia and East Timor that would be the case.

Dr Ramos Horta says that under international law Australia should refrain from exploiting resources until a permanent maritime boundary is negotiated.

JOSES RAMOS HORTA: It is our view that this fills, buffalo, Laminaria-Corallina, that have been operating under Australian licenses rightfully are part of East Timor sovereign rights.

GRAEME DOBELL: The first round of negotiations for a permanent maritime boundary began in Darwin last month.

East Timor says the talks are vital and the negotiators should continue meeting on a monthly basis.

Australia though says the formal negotiations should take place only twice a year.

The Convenor of the Australia East Timor Association Dr Andrew McNaughton, remembering that the previous Timor Sea negotiations with Indonesia took a decade, suggests that Australia could prolong negotiations for years while exploiting the disputed fields.

ANDREW MCNAUGHTON: Australia holds most of the cards. Australia has pulled out of the jurisdiction of the International Court, so Timor can't have the matter settled as matters stand in the International Court.

Australia has all the money. Australia has lots of other resources. Australia aids Timor, Timor doesn't aid Australia. So Australia has all the cards.

I believe Australia is in a good position to force a compromise upon East Timor.

My concern is that Australia may give no ground at all and might just say ‘look, we hold all the cards, bugger off. We don't care what international law says, we don't care what international conventions and rights say, we're not giving any ground and that's that.’

© 2003 Australian Broadcasting Corporation

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