No Timetable for E Timor Boundary
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
No Timetable for E Timor Boundary
By Nigel Wilson
AUSTRALIA is refusing to give East Timor a timetable for reaching a permanent maritime boundary between the two countries that could affect ownership of billions of dollars in oil and gas reserves.
On the eve of preliminary talks on the boundary beginning in Canberra tomorrow, Australian government officials emphasised the talks were about the process for the negotiations, not a timetable.
But the East Timor administration is pressing ahead with an international campaign designed to force Australia to give up control of such reserves as Greater Sunrise (owned by Woodside, ConocoPhillips, Shell and Osaka Gas) and the rapidly declining Laminaria oilfield (owned by Woodside, Shell and BHP Billiton).
When Australia negotiated a joint petroleum development area in the Timor Sea between Darwin and Dili, ahead of East Timor's independence in May last year, critics argued East Timor was being forced to give up access to petroleum resources worth up to $30 billion.
Last week, what's described as a "global coalition of non-government organisations" wrote to John Howard urging Australia to treat East Timor fairly as a sovereign nation.
The letter, signed by 100 NGOs from 18 countries, argued that East Timor's rights as an independent nation to establish boundaries and to benefit from its own resources were at stake.
The letter urged the Prime Minister to set a firm timetable to establish a boundary within three years.
But Australian officials said yesterday this was unrealistic as the history of establishing maritime boundaries suggested such negotiations could take up to 30 years to complete.
Australia had no preconceived ideas about how long long the talks might take but tomorrow's meeting of officials was a "scoping" meeting and no substantive questions would be discussed.
Australia denies bullying East Timor on lucrative gas field
SYDNEY, (AFP) - Australia has denied bullying its tiny Pacific neighbour East Timor Tuesday as the nations prepared for talks on finalising a contentious martime border that will determine how billions of dollars in revenues from Timor Sea gas fields is split.
Preliminary talks are scheduled in Darwin Wednesday on a border deal that impoverished East Timor sees as vital in ending its dependence on foreign aid.
A group of more than 100 non-government organisations from 19 countries wrote to Prime Minister John Howard last week raising concerns Australia would "sellout" East Timor in in a grab for the lucrative gas fields.
The letter also urged Australia to settle the border dispute within three years, giving East Timor early access to much-needed revenue of up to 30 billion dollars (21 billion US).
A foreign affairs department spokeswoman said Australia, a strong supporter of East Timor's independence from Indonesia, was committed to consultation with Dili.
"The Australian government has worked hard with the East Timorese since independence to arrive at a regime that allows the utilisation and development of petroleum resources," she said.
"We want to make sure that there's a win in there for both parties."
However, she said the Darwin talks would last only one day and centre on methodology for finalising the boundaries, so it was too early to commit to a three-year deadline.
Australia withdrew from the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, in March 2002 in what the East Timorese government described at the time as a "hostile act" designed to stop it receiving its fair share from the gasfields.
The most hotly-disputed part of the border concerns the Greater Sunrise field, most of which lies outside an area covered by a joint development treaty between Australia and East Timor.
Instead, the bulk of the field is covered by an interim deal known as the International Unitisation Agreement, which gives 90 percent of revenues to Australia.
The interim deal must be renegotiated during the border talks but the NGOs fear Australia will allow them to drag on from decades so that by the time the issue is settled the gas fields are virtually empty.
Australia claimed 80 percent of Greater Sunrise under the terms of a maritime treaty signed with Indonesia when it occupied East Timor.
But after East Timor became independent, Dili claimed a far greater part of the field lay within its maritime boundaries.