Members of Congress Stress Concern Over East Timor-Australia
Boundary Dispute During Australia Free Trade Debate
For Immediate Release
Contact: John M. Miller 917-690-4391; 718-5967668
July 21, 2004 - Members of the U.S. Congress continue to express
concern about Australia's stance toward East Timor in boundary
negotiations between the two countries. Representatives Patrick
Kennedy (RI), James McGovern (MA) and Dennis Kucinich (OH) raised
the issue on the floor of the House of Representatives during last
week's debate on the U.S.-Australia Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
Kennedy and McGovern voted for the FTA; Kucinich voted against.
Kennedy expressed the hope that "the Australian government will
employ that same diligence and dedication in resolving a dispute
over maritime boundaries with its neighbor, East Timor," as it did
in completing the FTA.
"These disputed boundaries are a reminder of the invalid
agreements made between Indonesia and Australia during the
Indonesian military occupation of East Timor," he added. "The East
Timorese struggle for independence will not be complete until East
Timor, a fully sovereign country, no longer has to bear that
lingering reminder of subjugation."
While noting his respect for Australia's government and people,
McGovern expressed concern for Australia's "ruthless treatment
and disregard of East Timor's rights." He urged Australia "to do the
right thing by East Timor: Rejoin the international dispute
resolution mechanism for maritime boundaries; refrain from offering
disputed areas for new petroleum contracts; and expeditiously
negotiate in good faith a permanent maritime boundary in the Timor
"The U.S. and Australia scarcely took one year to negotiate a
free trade agreement. Australia has been dragging its heels since
1999 to resolve this dispute with East Timor," he added.
Calling East Timor's claim "protected by international law,"
Kucinich accused Australia of "displaying 'bad faith' in the
He said, "The people of East Timor do not want to be poor; they
do not want to be begging for charity from wealthy countries, they
do not want to end up as a 'failed state.' They want to be
self-sufficient," he said as he urged his "colleagues to support the
efforts of the world's newest independent state."
In March 2004, 53 representatives wrote
to Australian Prime Minister John Howard, concluding that, "We trust
your country's commitment to the freedom and security of East Timor
will include recognition of East Timor's territorial integrity and
its right to a swift, permanent resolution of the maritime boundary
Report language accompanying the Senate Foreign Operations
Appropriations bill in July 2003 stated, "The Committee is aware of
negotiations between East Timor and Australia over petroleum
reserves, which will be of critical importance to the future
economic development and security of East Timor.
The Committee urges both governments to engage in good faith
negotiations to resolve their maritime boundary expeditiously in
accordance with international legal principles."
East Timor became the world's newest sovereign nation in 2002,
following two years of UN administration and 24 years of brutal
Indonesian military occupation. Vast oil and gas reserves lie under
the sea between East Timor and Australia. Australia supported the
illegal Indonesian occupation almost to the end, signing an illegal
treaty to share the petroleum resources in 1989. Canberra was a
leader in the 1999 international military intervention that
accompanied Indonesia's scorched-earth withdrawal. Although East
Timor's negotiations with Indonesia for its northern and western
boundaries are progressing, Australia on the south has been
intransigent, even as it takes in money from oil and gas deposits in
The East Timor Action Network/U.S. supports human dignity for the
people of East Timor by advocating for democracy; sustainable
development; social, legal and economic justice; and human rights,
including women's rights. For more information, see www.etan.org.
http://www.etan.org/issues/tsea.htm for additional info