Subject: AFP: East Timor, Australia oil talks begin

ABC: East Timor turns up pressure over boundary negotiations

Monday, 19 April 2004


East Timor, Australia oil talks begin

DILI - Tiny East Timor has launched another swingeing attack on Australia as the two countries begin formal talks to settle their sea border and the ownership of billions of dollars in offshore oil and gas revenues.

Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said the issue is "a matter of life and death" for his country, which was Asia's poorest nation upon independence in May 2002.

In what was described as a "welcome statement," he said a boundary determined "in accordance with established principles of international law" would triple East Timor's income.

"Concretely, it means the money to immunise and educate every child in Timor-Leste (East Timor). It means more children will reach the age of five years. It means more lives spent productively. It is, quite literally, a matter of life and death," Alkatiri told delegates.

The prime minister, according to a statement released by his office, called for urgent negotiations to reach a deal.

"Timor-Leste loses one million dollars a day due to Australia's unlawful exploitation of resources in the disputed area. That is too many lost and wasted lives," he said, calling for monthly talks.

Australia wants to keep the border which was agreed with Jakarta after Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975. This would give it the lion's share of oil and gas reserves.

East Timor says the border should lie at the mid-point between the two countries, in line with international practice.

Alkatiri says Dili will not ratify an interim deal called the International Unitisation Agreement (IUA) because it gives East Timor only 18% of revenues from the Greater Sunrise field while handing Canberra 82%.

Alkatiri said East Timor was prepared to let any international tribunal decide the matter on the merits.

In March 2002 Australia withdrew from the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea before the dispute reached the arbiter.

"Australia is not the only country to avoid international jurisdiction when it feels the law is against it. The rule of law is not only for weakest and the poorest. The powerful nation should be the example," Alkatiri said.

Canberra's policy has also come under fire from Australian critics. In the latest attack, the Catholic Commission for Justice, Development and Peace accused the government of bullying East Timor and making a "greedy grab" for energy revenues.

Alkatiri repeated criticism of Canberra for unilaterally taking resources from disputed parts of Greater Sunrise by awarding exploration licences.

He said he was confident of a fair outcome on sea borders eventually.

"But we fear that, when this happens, all the petroleum will already be gone from our areas. This unjust result robs too many of our children of their future."

Alkatiri said energy companies operating in any part of the disputed area would have no rights if a boundary review later placed this area within East Timor.

"Further, Timor-Leste will prosecute to the full extent of the law those that operate illegally in its maritime areas..."

Last week Australian energy giant Woodside warned it would scrap a multi-billion dollar oil and gas development in the Timor Sea unless East Timor ratifies the IUA.

Alkatiri said Australia acknowledged the existence of a disputed area when it signed the IUA but now cited its longstanding "occupation" of the area while East Timor was an Indonesian province.

"Indonesia's annexation of Timor-Leste was illegal and the fruit of that illegal act cannot be valid. Timor-Leste can not be deprived of its rights or territory because of a crime," he said.

The talks are to wind up on Thursday.



East Timor turns up pressure over boundary negotiations

The World Today - Monday, 19 April , 2004 12:30:26 Reporter: Graeme Dobell

TANYA NOLAN: East Timor and Australia will this afternoon start nearly a week of talks, on the increasingly tense issue of a permanent maritime boundary.

And in the lead-up to the meeting in Dili, East Timor has turned up the pressure by threatening not to ratify an agreement for a seabed oil and gas project, worth $8 billion.

From Canberra, Graeme Dobell reports.

GRAEME DOBELL: The language from East Timor is getting tougher.

MARI ALKATIRI: Sometime, even between friends, between good friends, we have a lot of differences, and when there is a lot of money involved it is much easier to have differences between friends.

GRAEME DOBELL: Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri says he no longer thinks of the Australian Government as a good partner.

MARI ALKATIRI: Suddenly, I realise that when billions of dollars are involved, they became really bad partners.

GRAEME DOBELL: The East Timor leader is getting increasingly sharp in the language he uses to describe a deal his Government signed last year to allow the development of the Greater Sunrise oil and gas field in the Timor Sea.

About 80 per cent of the proceeds from the massive project will go to Australia. The Australian Parliament has ratified the so-called Unitisation Agreement, but Prime Minister Alkatiri now says he won't put the deal to his Parliament to be ratified.

Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, says East Timor should carry through and legally ratify what it signed up to.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: We reached an agreement with them last year, and I flew to Dili and I signed that agreement with the East Timorese Government, one of their ministers signed it, but in the presence of Prime Minister Alkatari and President Xanana Gusmao. And having reached an agreement with them, and signed an agreement, we wouldn't have signed it if we didn't think it was a worthy agreement, and I guess they wouldn't have either.

GRAEME DOBELL: The hint from Dili, from Mari Alkatiri though, is that any ratification will be linked to progress on negotiations to define a permanent seabed boundary between Australia and East Timor, which he thinks should give much more territory to East Timor.

MARI ALKATIRI: I'm still working to get Australia to change its position, because when I had decided to sign the agreements, it was with good faith and I would like to keep this good faith alive, and I would like to really change the whole situation to make it possible to have it ratified by our Parliament.

GRAEME DOBELL: The threat that ratification may not happen has already brought a counter-threat from the energy giant, Woodside Petroleum, that it will not go ahead with development of the Greater Sunrise field.

East Timor is using the ratification issue to put pressure on Australia in boundary negotiations which resume in Dili this afternoon.

East Timor says that a final boundary should be set at the midpoint of the Timor Sea, half way between Australia and Timor. That would move the Greater Sunrise field from Australia's control to East Timor.

Canberra's response is that a far more favourable for Australia boundary would be drawn based on the reach of Australia's continental shelf, a determining factor in past negotiations with Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

The Dili talks will give a clearer indication of how closely East Timor is going to tie ratification of the Greater Sunrise deal to a final border settlement with Australia.

TANYA NOLAN: Foreign Affairs Correspondent Graeme Dobell.

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