Australia and East Timor were to sign the Timor Gap agreement in East Timor’s capital of Dili later Thursday, granting the world’s newest state billions of dollars in royalties as it heads towards self-government.
The agreement, worth some four to five billion dollars over the next two decades, represents a major boost for the finances of the impoverished new state, currently under UN administration, ahead of elections next month.
East Timor will receive 90 percent of royalties generated from the commercial exploitation of oil and natural gas reserves in the Timor Sea, ensuring it will not remain exclusively dependent on foreign aid after elections on August 30.
But the conclusion of the deal on Tuesday also lifted the lid on tense undercurrents that arose during negotiations, with East Timorese representatives accusing an Australian politician of attempting to subvert the accord.
The Economics Minister in East Timor’s interim administration, Mari Alkatiri, has threatened to boycott the signing ceremony if the Chief Minister of Australia’s Northern Territory, Denis Burke, attends.
Alkatiri accused Burke of staging rival negotiations by inviting politicians from Timor’s embryonic parliament, the National Council, to attend talks that undermined the official Timor negotiating team.
“It was last month when he invited people from the national council, some delegation authorities, some businessmen and tried to push them against the negotiating team,” Alkatiri said.
“He needs to apologise for that before coming here and meeting again authorities in this country.”
East Timor’s foreign envoy, Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos Horta attempted Thursday to soothe the simmering tensions.
“Mr Burke will be afforded the respect, the hospitality that is deserving of a neighbour of a territory that has been supportive, hospitable to the people of East Timor,” Ramos Horta told ABC Radio.
“I personally will meet him at the airport, take him to the ceremony, and Mr Alkatiri will also welcome him.
“It’s not a question of backdown, he doesn’t take it seriously and Mr Burke is welcome as our neighbour.”
Burke claimed it was “a ridiculous notion to suggest that by the Northern Territory’s involvement in these negotiations we’ve somehow interfered in the internal affairs of East Timor.
“And I wonder if Dr Alkatiri also considers we interfered in their internal affairs when we provided safe haven in Darwin for 3,000 refugees two years ago. Now’s not a time to be spiteful.”
The Timor Gap treaty between Australia and East Timor was renegotiated after the latter voted to break away from Indonesian rule in 1999, sparking an orgy of violence by pro-Jakarta militia’s which devastated the territory and caused hundreds of thousands to flee for safety.
A previous agreement between Canberra and Jakarta signed in 1989 divided royalties between the two countries equally, but was nullified by the former Portuguese colony’s secession from Indonesia.
BD: TIMOR OIL - A collection of recent reports, position statements, petitions, articles and news
3 TP: NC members off to Darwin to gather data on Timor Gap
News from ETimor added May 5
"Twenty-six councilors out the 30-member National Council will be making their way to Darwin between 8 May - 10 May to seek further data on the Timor Gap. This data will be used by the National Council to analyze the involvement of the Australian government and Philips Petroleum in the development of the Timor Gap, said National Council President Manuel Carascalao yesterday." Timor Post
30 ABC Darwin: Denis Burke re: Timor Gas Interview with
comments from BACK DOOR added May 1
" ... frankly I believe Australia has to hold a very hard line in the region. I mean like it or not we have responsibilities in this region. Like it or not we have taken leadership and should continue to hold a strong leadership position in the region. And in that context we have to demonstrate firmness on issues such as sovereignty." Denis Burke, the Northern Territory (Australia) Government’s Chief Minister