Subject: IPS: Activists BAck Rejection of Oil Deal with Australia


IPS-Inter Press Service

April 20, 2004, Tuesday


Sonny Inbaraj

DILI, East Timor, Apr. 20

East Timorese activists have thrown their support behind their government's refusal to ratify an agreement giving Australia the lion's share of disputed oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea as talks begin here this week to demarcate the two countries' maritime boundaries.

Hundreds of East Timorese demonstrators protested late last week outside Australia's embassy, here, against what they termed as a robbery of the region's poorest country by its richest neighbor of its oil and gas resources. Bilateral talks are being held Apr. 19-22.

"This is not a war of weapons, but of words," said Joao Saramento, spokesman for the Movement Against the Occupation of the Timor Sea, which comprises non-government organizations, individuals and other civic groups in the fledgling country.

"We thought foreign occupation of our territory had ended in 1999. We did not expect to emerge from Indonesia's bloody occupation of our land only to face Australia's greedy occupation of our sea," he said.

For 25 years, East Timor was occupied by Indonesia. The Timorese, in a United Nations-sponsored referendum, opted for independence in late August 1999. But when the ballot results were announced in September 1999, Indonesian military-sponsored militias went on an orgy of terror and razed Dili to the ground.

Added Saramento: "Australia is a wealthy country, with a high standard of living and vast amounts and variety of natural resources. East Timor suffers the legacy of centuries of colonialism and war and we have only one significant material resource -- the petroleum deposits under our part of the Timor Sea."

East Timor gained independence in May 2002 after a two-year interim administration lead by the United Nations. But nearly two years after independence, the country is one of the world's poorest nations.

Earlier in the week, East Timor's Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said his parliament would not ratify an agreement which paves the way for oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea to be developed.

Alkatiri said there has not been good faith on the part of the Australian government. "I trust the Australian people, the Australian politicians, academics and all of the Australian of goodwill and I think they can really influence the government," he said.

"They still can put pressure on the Australian government, to change the government's position," he added.

Echoing Alkatari, Saramento urged the Australian government to return what he claimed is their rightful oil and gas resources under international law. "We are not asking for charity from Australia. We only want what is rightfully ours under international law to develop our country for future generations," he said.

In March, the Australian parliament passed laws giving effect to an agreement between Australia and East Timor to develop oil and gas resources expected to generate revenues of seven billion U.S. dollars. East Timor is not happy with the deal because it will receive only 18 percent of revenue, even though the oil and gas are far closer to the shores of East Timor than they are to Australia.

On Independence Day on May 20, 2002, Dili and Canberra signed the Timor Sea Treaty. This treaty gives East Timor 90 percent of revenues from inside the so-called Joint Petroleum Development Area (JPDA) between the two countries.

The Timor Sea Treaty would allow for the production of the " Undan area, within the JPDA, to begin with. Ninety percent of the government share of revenue would go to East Timor, which needs urgent funds to jumpstart its beleaguered economy.

But months later, Australia refused to ratify the treaty unless East Timor signed another resource-sharing agreement, the Greater Sunrise Unitization Agreement. This is an interim arrangement between East Timor and Australia to put in place a legal regime necessary for the " Undan project to progress while maritime boundaries are finalized.

In March 2003, Australia and East Timor signed the Greater Sunrise Unitization Agreement, which was ratified last month by the Australian parliament. Dili says it signed this to get movement on the " Undan accord.

Greater Sunrise lies about 450 kilometers north-west of the Australian city of Darwin and 150 kilometers south of East Timor. It contains an estimated 235 billion cubic meters of gas and 300 million barrels of condensate.

This is despite the fact that "the Greater Sunrise field is twice as close to East Timor as it is to Australia," said Darwin's Timor Sea Justice Campaign coordinator Rob Wesley-Smith.

But East Timor's maritime disputes with Australia do not end there.

Two months before East Timor's independence, Australia withdrew from the jurisdiction of the two international arbitration bodies used to settle maritime boundary disputes, the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, saying it preferred "negotiation to litigation".

East Timor Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta accused Australia of dragging its heels on negotiations on the disputed sea frontier between the two countries in order to drain the region of its oil and natural-gas riches.

"The longer the negotiations last, the better it is for Australia", said Ramos-Horta. "Perhaps when the gas and oil run out, then Australia will want to negotiate".

"Had Australia accepted the median line for the maritime boundary, as defined in international law, then today East Timor would be a country like Kuwait," said Ramos-Horta.

He added: "East Timor's strength in this question lies in international law. We haven't invented anything and we're going to see whether Australia is a democratic country, and whether or not it accepts international law."

While Australia is seen as the region's bully-boy in East Timor, President Xanana Gusmao is confident the current Timor Sea spat will not affect relations between the two countries.

"The Timor Sea treaty protest in front of the Australian Embassy in Dili does not affect at all the relations between Australia and East Timor," said Gusmao."There will always be problems when someone speaks about the economy, the market or natural resources."

IPS-Inter Press Service


By Bob Burton


As protests mount in East Timor, the Australian government is under increasing pressure to agree to a maritime boundary halfway between the two countries rather than a border that would deprive the world's newest nation of billions of dollars in oil revenues.

Teams of Australian and East Timorese negotiators are meeting in the East Timorese capital Dili, from Apr. 19 to 22, in an attempt to agree on a timetable for the negotiations over the sea boundary.

Last week, approximately 1,800 people protested outside the Australian Embassy in Dili over Australia's stand on the boundary issue. Further protests are planned this week.

Catholic Commission for Justice Development and Peace Executive Officer, Marc Purcell, believes that Australia is attempting to take advantage of its poor neighbor. * "Australia is being greedy. It is a grab. The Australian government can pretend 'we are negotiating in good faith' but the longer it drags on the more revenue Australia will get because of the current boundaries inherited from Indonesia," he said.

East Timorese Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said: "Sometimes, 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."

"Suddenly, I realize that when billions of dollars are involved, they became really bad partners," he told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.

In early March, the Australian government rushed legislation through parliament to ratify an agreement with East Timor over the proposed Greater Sunrise oil and gas project. The legislation, named the Greater Sunrise Unitization Agreement Implementation Bill 2004, divides the potential proceeds between the two countries although their sea boundary has yet to be finalized.

The agreement, signed by both countries in March 2003, divides the revenues with 82 percent of the projected 7 billion U.S. dollars for the Australian government. Only 18 percent goes to East Timor, even though the area is far closer to its shores than to Australia's.

The project developers are a consortium of companies including Woodside, ConocoPhillips, Shell and Osaka Gas.

At the time, East Timor signed the agreement in order ensure gain immediate access to revenues from the existing but far smaller Bayu Undan field, covered under the separate Timor Sea Treaty.

Subsequently, Alkatiri has warned that East Timor's parliament would withhold ratification of the Greater Sunrise agreement if Australia does not commit itself to a speedy resolution of the maritime boundary. Australian Greens Sen. Bob Brown has flown to Dili to meet government officials and non-government organizations to back their calls for a fair maritime boundary. "The agreement robs the poorest country in South-east Asia to line the pockets of the government and the oil corporations of the richest country in the region, Australia," Brown said.

The current budget for East Timor is 79 million U.S. dollars, mostly from aid. The new government also faces massive challenges, since more than half of East Timor's 800,000 people live on less that 340 dollars a year. Mortality rates for children remain a high, and the literacy rate stands at some 60 percent.

At a press conference Monday, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer dismissed the East Timorese government complaints as no more than a negotiating tactic. "They see it as a useful way of strengthening their negotiating hand by accusing us of being bullying and aggressive," he said.

"Just listening to me now and I'm absolutely calm and reasonable and just hear what they have to say and we'll participate in the negotiating process as best we know how as well. We have our own way of negotiating, which mainly isn't public. Theirs is more public, they like to negotiate publicly. We're private people, us Australians," he said.

Australia has long had its eyes on the oil deposits between the two countries.

In August 1975, three months prior to the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, the Australian ambassador to Indonesia, Richard Woolcott, had sent a cable to Canberra urging compliance with Indonesia's plans to annex East Timor.

"It would seem to me that this Department of Minerals and Energy might well have an interest in closing the present gap in the agreed sea border and this could be much more readily negotiated with Indonesia than with Portugal; or independent Portuguese Timor," he had written. "I know I am recommending a pragmatic rather than a principled stand but that is what national interest and foreign policy is all about."

After the invasion, Australia became the only nation to recognize Indonesia's annexation of East Timor and turned a blind eye to the slaughter of up to 200,000 people by the Indonesian military.

While East Timor's government is working to rebuild the shattered country, frustration with the Australian government - which claims it only has sufficient resources to discuss the boundary issues every six months - is growing.

Earlier this week, Alkatiri suggested that if lack of funding was preventing Australia from promptly resolving the boundary issue, then East Timor would pay Australia's costs out of future oil revenues.

Purcell argues that the Australian government position should back a swift and fair resolution of the boundary to help the new country wean itself off aid funding.

"If a line were drawn halfway in the sea between the two countries, two-thirds of these riches would lie closer to East Timor and, according to the International Law of the Sea, be rightfully theirs," he said.

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