Subject: AP: Timorese protest Australian gas deal; threaten to scrap
Also: Platts: Australia, East Timor set for maritime boundary talks Apr 19-22
Timorese protest Australian gas deal; threaten to scrap border treaty
April 14, 2004 4:29am AP Online
DILI, East Timor_Hundreds of people rallied Wednesday to protest a natural gas deal with neighboring Australia as the East Timor government said wanted a greater share of revenues and raised doubts that it would ratify the deal.
It also called for a dispute over ownership of a key undersea oil field resolved.
East Timor is the world's newest and one of its poorest nations.
Australia's parliament has ratified the deal that is to divide royalties from the Greater Sunrise field that lies in the sea between the two countries. But East Timor's legislature has yet to do so.
Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri has complained East Timor was pressured into accepting the agreement that gives it only 18 percent of an expected US$30 billion in gas and oil revenues.
The two countries are also at odds over who controls the part of the sea where the field is located.
According to the U.N. Law of the Sea, wherever neighboring claims overlap countries must negotiate a maritime boundary halfway between their coastlines.
But in 2002, Australia withdrew from the international tribunal governing the Law of the Sea in an effort to retain control of a large portion of the disputed region, 150 kilometers (90 miles) from East Timor and 400 kilometers (250 miles) from Australia.
Alkatiri has slammed Canberra for issuing exploration licenses in the disputed area and for dragging its feet on talks to establish a permanent maritime boundary.
"It's the intention of the prime minister to submit the agreement to the East Timor parliament for ratification," said Paul Cleary, a spokesman for Alkatiri. "However, Australia's unilateral exploitation of an area claimed by both countries will make the process of ratification difficult."
On Wednesday, about 500 people demonstrated outside the Australian Embassy in Dili, accusing Canberra of using a "brute-power approach" to forge a deal, and demanded that any revenues from the contested area be put into an escrow account until the boundary issue is resolved.
"Your government has taken in more than one billion dollars in revenues from this area, and we have received nothing," yelled Ernesto Pinto, a protest organizer.
Last month, the Australian parliament ratified the legislation. Some Australian lawmakers said the deal robbed East Timor of vital revenue.
Canberra has defended the agreement, saying it meant that East Timor would at least receive some money while the maritime boundary was being negotiated.
In March, 53 U.S. congressmen called on Australian Prime Minister John Howard to "move seriously and expeditiously in negotiations with East Timor to establish a fair, permanent maritime boundary and an equitable sharing of oil and gas resources in the Timor Sea."
Last Update: Wednesday, April 14, 2004. 10:24pm (AEST)
East Timor protests over 'unfair' boundaries
About 700 people have protested outside the Australian embassy in East Timor over the division of oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.
The protesters are angry at a bilateral agreement that will give Australia the vast bulk of revenue from key oil reserves in the Timor Sea.
East Timor is threatening to withhold ratification of the agreement unless it gets a fairer deal.
It argues that a maritime boundary set halfway between the two countries would give East Timor an extra $8 billion in revenue from reserves that Australia now claims as its own.
The protest comes ahead of official boundary negotiations in Dili next week and protesters say demonstrations will continue for several days.
Australia, East Timor set for maritime boundary talks Apr 19-22
Australia and East Timor will hold their first formal round of talks in Dili Apr 19-22 in a process aimed at delimiting the permanent maritime boundaries between them, a spokesman for the Timor Sea Office said Wednesday. His office was not prepared to disclose the precise agenda for the talks at this point of time, the spokesman said, but added the target of the discussions was for East Timor to secure permanent maritime boundaries. The final determination of sea boundaries is crucial for East Timor to get what it regards as its fair share of revenues from the oil and gas resources in the Timor Sea. Australia and East Timor in May 2002 signed the Timor Sea Treaty, agreeing to temporarily split revenue from the overlapping waters, defined as the Joint Petroleum Development Area, in the ratio 10:90. They also agreed to unitize the Greater Sunrise gas field on the periphery of the JPDA on the basis that 20.1% of it lies within the JPDA and the rest in waters under Australian jurisdiction. Both pacts are supposed to lapse on delimitation of the permanent boundaries.
Dili's maritime boundary claims, drawn up in August 2002 on the basis of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, place the entire JPDA and almost all of Sunrise in East Timor's jurisdiction. In the meantime, East Timor has expressed concern over Australia continuing to take all the revenue from the Laminaria, Corallina and Buffalo producing oil fields in a disputed area of the Timor Sea. More recently, it objected to statements from some Australian parliamentarians and officials, made during the ratification of the Sunrise International Unitization Agreement, that Canberra had sole jurisdiction over a part of that field. Dili also lodged a strong protest last month when the Australian government released for auction two oil and gas exploration blocks in the disputed waters of the Timor Sea. Dili has been pushing Canberra to commit to a timetable for wrapping up the boundary talks, but without much luck. East Timor has yet to ratify the Sunrise IUA. "Australia's recent actions and statements make that process difficult," the spokesman said.
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