Subject: AGE: God could punish Australia: Timor

The Age

God could punish Australia: Timor

By Mark Baker

Asia Editor


June 30, 2004

East Timor has invoked the wrath of God upon Australia in the bitter feud over the division of oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.

Timorese Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta warned yesterday that God might strike to dry up the ocean between the two countries if Australia refused to give a fair share of the resources to his nation.

Mr Ramos Horta also claimed Australia's tough stance in negotiations on the issue was like Microsoft mogul Bill Gates stealing from his cleaning lady.

"God will punish them one day," the Nobel peace prize winner told journalists when asked how tiny East Timor might eventually achieve justice with its big neighbour.

"I've asked the God Almighty that one day He will do justice if they don't recognise our rights. Who knows, one day God will dry up completely the sea where they are operating, like happened in the Bible."

Mr Ramos Horta said Australia, which is insisting that its rights over maritime resources extend close to the Timorese coastline, had been reaping revenue of $1 million a day since 1999 from oil and gas exports that rightly belonged to East Timor.

"I don't like to use strong words like stealing. Australia is a very sophisticated, civilised country, so they are not supposed to steal oil or other resources from anyone, especially a poor country," he said. "It would be like Bill Gates stealing from an unemployed person, or from his driver, or stealing from his cleaning lady . . . so I don't like to use those words."

East Timor is arguing in negotiations begun earlier this year for the major share of revenue from several big new oil and gas reserves being developed in the Timor Sea. It claims the reserves lie closer to its territory than Australia's, but Australia says its rights extend further because of the reach of the continental shelf.

"Australia's activities in the Timor Sea are not consistent with our interpretation of international law. We believe they are violating our sovereign rights," said Mr Ramos Horta, who is in Jakarta for regional security talks.

But he said differences on the issue should not be allowed to undermine an important relationship. "We are friendly neighbours," he said. "We can have our differences, but Australia is very important to East Timor."

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