Subject: SMH -Timor Sea boundary talks hang in balance

Sydney Morning Herald

Timor Sea boundary talks hang in balance

By Cynthia Banham, Foreign Affairs Reporter April 29, 2005

Australia and East Timor were poised last night to reach a breakthrough agreement on the disputed Timor Sea oil and gas resources.

A senior Australian official, Doug Chester, told the Herald "everything is going fine" and things were "moving steadily ahead". Both countries are expected to agree on deferring the fraught issue of a permanent maritime boundary for about 50 or 60 years.

In exchange they will agree to work together to exploit the resources of the sea. East Timor would get increased revenue, and the Greater Sunrise oil and gas project would go ahead.

The talks in Dili, which have been going on for three days, were expected to continue late into the night and resume early this morning.

The countries have been unable to agree on the boundary, with Australia refusing to accept East Timor's demand that it should be midway between the two nations.

Australian Government officials have been reported this week as saying a formula had been proposed whereby maritime boundary talks would be deferred by 50 or 60 years, in exchange for increased payments to East Timor. The agreement would allow work to go ahead on Greater Sunrise, worth billions of dollars.

The Australian Government has been accused of bullying the impoverished and fledgling nation of East Timor throughout the negotiations.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, defended the Government's position, saying it had "no interest in keeping East Timor poor".

"But on the other hand, we have no interest in unravelling all of our maritime boundaries which cover thousands upon thousands of kilometres with countries like Indonesia as well as East Timor," he said. "We've been enormously generous to East Timor already."

A spokesman for the East Timorese refused to comment.

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