Subject: Letter from Ramos-Horta: response to Alexander Downer

From KESTA list

(See also Alexandre Downer Letter below)

Wall Street Journal July 5, 2004

Letter from José Ramos-Horta Timor-Leste Minister for Foreign Affairs and Co-operation

The letter from my good friend, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer (Australia's Sovereign Rights, June 25) contains numerous errors of fact that are unfair to Timor-Leste (East Timor) and cannot go unchallenged. In ostensibly dispelling "myths" about the dispute between Timor-Leste and Australia in the Timor Sea, he has instead created them.

Timor-Leste is not asking for charity in resolving sovereign rights in the Timor Sea, as Mr Downer would have us believe. Timor-Leste is simply seeking its right as a sovereign state to a maritime boundary settlement based on accepted international legal principles and the rule of law.

A fair settlement is in the interest of both nations, and indeed potential foreign investors in petroleum resources. This will give Timor-Leste rights to the resources that lie on its side of a median line between our two nations, allowing Timor-Leste to develop without being dependent on foreign aid.

Mr Downer claims disingenuously that Timor-Leste is asking Australia to cede territory on the basis that it is poor. As Mr. Downer well knows the dispute between Timor-Leste and Australia is not a question of ceding territory, but of setting maritime boundaries for the first time. The area of the Timor Sea between Australia and Timor-Leste is not covered by a permanent boundary between our two nations and is claimed by both countries. Australia has signed the International Unitization Agreement that acknowledges these important facts.

Timor-Leste's position is not in any way based on its poverty, but rather on international law. As Mr. Downer knows, Timor-Leste's legal position is supported by the overwhelming majority of international legal academics, including members of his own department.

Mr. Downer claims that Timor-Leste is reducing international law to a farce. Yet it is Australia that is exploiting disputed resources without first establishing who owns them. It is Australia that withdrew from international dispute resolution mechanisms for maritime boundaries just two months before Timor-Leste's independence was celebrated, thereby denying this avenue of justice to us. And it is Australia that is refusing to enter into serious negotiations by claiming it lacks the resources to meet more than twice a year. We have the UNDP in Timor-Leste to build public sector capacity, but perhaps it is also needed in Australia.

Timor-Leste, like any sovereign nation, is entitled to an exclusive economic zone (EEZ), as is our neighbor Australia. When these entitlements overlap, as they do in the Timor Sea, a boundary has to be drawn between the states involved. In such instances, it is universally accepted that a median line would be the boundary. Natural features such as a continental shelf are in these circumstances considered irrelevant.

We believe our position is so strong that we are willing to submit to international adjudication. Contrary to Mr Downer's amusing rhetoric, Timor-Leste is not seeking to annex Australian `territory' on the basis that it is poor. We are indeed a very poor nation, but poor nations are entitled to their rights under international law, and this means having this dispute settled equitably, fairly and promptly.

I call on my friend Alexander Downer to bring an end to this farcical situation and restore the rule of law in the Timor Sea.

José Ramos-Horta Dili, Timor-Leste


Letter to the Editor- June 25, 2004 Australia's Sovereign Rights

Criticism of Australia's motives in relation to settlement of permanent maritime boundaries with East Timor in your June 10 article, "For East Timor, Energy Riches Lie Just Out of Reach," is offensive and disingenuous.

In recent years, no country has done more than Australia to assist the people of East Timor. Our role in East Timor's transition to independence and its subsequent stabilisation has been crucial. We currently provide some 440 troops and 21 police. Since 1999 we have delivered humanitarian aid, development assistance and defence cooperation valued at a total of more than $270 million.

Australia is committed to negotiating permanent maritime boundaries with East Timor. The first round of negotiations was held in April and a second round will take place later in the year. Certainly there are competing claims-- that is what these complex negotiations are to resolve.

Under the Timor Sea Treaty, Australia has already agreed to a very generous interim arrangement that splits petroleum revenues from the Joint Petroleum Development Area (JPDA) 90:10 in favour of East Timor. Under previous arrangements with Indonesia the split was 50:50.

Among the myths propagated on this issue is the claim that International law dictates a median line between the two countries as the only Solution for a permanent maritime boundary. In fact, natural prolongation of the continental shelf, on which Australia bases its claims, remains a valid source of seabed jurisdiction under international law.

Another myth is that a median-line approach would give East Timor all or most of the oil and gas resources in the Timor Sea. This is also incorrect. Such an approach could well leave East Timor without any share, for instance, of the Bayu-Undan gas field, rather than the generous 90% share East Timor currently enjoys. Moreover, a median line approach would not give East Timor any materially larger share of the fields -- such as Greater Sunrise and Laminaria -- that lie wholly or predominantly outside the JPDA and within sole Australian seabed jurisdiction.

To cede territory merely on the basis that a neighbor is poorer would reduce international law to a farce. Under such absurdity, we could see the Texas oil fields ceded to Mexico.

It is clearly in Australia's national interest that East Timor becomes a stable and self-sufficient neighbor. East Timor currently stands to derive enormous economic benefits from the Timor Sea resources. However, those resources are not all East Timor's. Australia makes no apology for protecting its sovereign rights.

Alexander Downer 
Minister for Foreign Affairs Canberra

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