Subject: Wash Times: Treading a watery boundary

The Washington Times Letters to the Editor August 31, 2004

Treading a watery boundary

East Timor is on firm ground in demanding a midline boundary with Australia in the Timor Sea ("East Timor, Australia fight for riches beneath the sea," World, Friday). According to international experts, there have been 80 instances where the median line has been applied to resolving overlapping claims between states less than 400 nautical miles apart. The only exception: the 1972 Australia-Indonesia Treaty.

Unfortunately, the Australian government continues to obstruct the new country's efforts to define a fair maritime boundary in the Timor Sea. Meanwhile, Australia extracts billions of dollars worth of oil and gas from disputed undersea territory.

Neither the 1972 treaty signed between Australia and Indonesia, nor the 1989 Timor Gap Treaty signed when Indonesia illegally occupied East Timor, should have a bearing on current talks.

That Australia itself considers its own case weak became evident when just two months prior to East Timor's independence in May 2002. Australia formally withdrew from international legal mechanisms -- the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea -- for resolving maritime boundary issues.

This action prevents the new nation from employing third-party arbitration to encourage Australia to resolve the boundary in a timely and cooperative manner.

The crux of the issue is not the great wealth which lies under the Timor Sea, important as that will be to the impoverished new nation. Nor is Australia being generous when it agrees to revenue sharing arrangements that appear to favor East Timor.

The issue is whether or not Australia will continue to attempt to bully the new nation. Instead it should respect East Timor's sovereignty by participating in good-faith efforts to resolve the boundary dispute quickly and according to current internationally-accepted legal principles.

Barring that it should agree to go to arbitration as provided for in international agreements.


Media & outreach coordinator

East Timor Action Network


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