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"In the press conference, Downer stated that Australia’s concerns are “less with the revenue we can extract from the Timor Sea than with the broader questions of sovereignty”. This probably means that the Australian government is willing to offer East Timor a higher percentage of revenue, in order to entrench the current, highly unfair, maritime boundary between East Timor and Australia." Vannessa Hearman

Green Left Weekly

18 August 2004
page 3

New Timor Sea deal?

Vannessa Hearman
vhearman@telstra.com


On August 11, East Timorese foreign minister Jose Ramos Horta and Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer agreed on a “framework” for a Timor Sea agreement. According to Downer, an agreement could be reached by Christmas.

During a joint press conference in Canberra, Downer stated that, “as a result of these discussions, we can find a way through which will be beneficial to the people of East Timor, but will also be satisfactory as far as the Australian people are concerned”. The ministers did not discuss details of the talks.

In the press conference, Downer stated that Australia’s concerns are “less with the revenue we can extract from the Timor Sea than with the broader questions of sovereignty”. This probably means that the Australian government is willing to offer East Timor a higher percentage of revenue, in order to entrench the current, highly unfair, maritime boundary between East Timor and Australia.

According to UN conventions on the law of the sea, the maritime boundary should be drawn halfway between East Timor and Australia. Under its agreement with Indonesia, however, the Australian government took sovereignty of considerably more. Since the occupation ended, the Timorese government has been attempting to reset the boundary in accordance with international law. The disputed area includes the entire Timor Sea, and the Greater Sunrise, Buffalo, Laminaria and Corallina oil and gas fields.

Horta’s indication that both Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri and President Xanana Gusmao were supportive of finding “a solution that is satisfactory to the two sides” may mean an East Timorese compromise on the boundary is forthcoming. However, many Timorese believe that a fair boundary is necessary for the country to achieve full independence.

Australia will push for any agreement to include East Timorese government ratification of the Greater Sunrise Unitisation Agreement, which Woodside Petroleum, the lead company in the Greater Sunrise project, has been agitating for. This could be a sticking point. So far, East Timor has refused to ratify the agreement, because entitlements under the agreement will be affected by changes in the maritime boundary.

On August 13, the Murdoch-owned Australian newspaper — which has been campaigning against a fair deal for Timor — reported that “in an offer yet to go to federal cabinet, the Howard Government is now prepared to concede up to half of the Greater Sunrise gas reserves to East Timor, giving it an extra $3 billion”. However, East Timorese sources have been reluctant to comment on a possible resolution.

On August 13, the Timorese secretary of state for resources and energy, Jose Teixeira, told Green Left Weekly that it was “difficult to answer if there is a deal” as yet. He said that Alkatiri “has just been briefed about what happened in Canberra” and a statement would be released by Alkatiri’s office this week.

Teixeira said that the Timorese negotiating team was “encouraged by suggestions of a framework” for negotiations, but that “a lot of detail still has to be worked out”. Asked if the campaign for East Timor’s claim to the oil and gas in the Timor Sea is now finished, Teixeira responded that, whilst East Timor was “encouraged by the goodwill shown by Australia”, it was still cautious, because the details are still unclear.

Greens Senator Bob Brown commented that the rumours of Australian government concessions on Greater Sunrise showed, “not just how justified the East Timorese refusal to accept the deal was, but how angry the Australian electorate has been over the mistreatment of East Timor by the Coalition government”.

He added: “The Greens will not accept any deal which falls short of an internationally arbitrated readjustment of the sea boundaries.”

Leading Timorese activist Tomas Freitas told Green Left Weekly on August 13 that campaigners in East Timor had many questions about the details of Downer and Horta’s agreement and discussions — in particular, whether his government had discarded its principle of maritime sovereignty. They were waiting, he said, for clarification from Alkatiri’s office before releasing a statement.

Dan Nicholson from the Timor Sea Justice Campaign in Melbourne [http://www.TimorSeaJustice.org] was similarly cautious. He said that the group would go ahead with its planned meeting on August 18 and decide on campaign priorities, which could include continued lobbying efforts and hosting a tour of two Timorese civil society activists.

The next round of talks between the two countries will likely go ahead on September 20 in Canberra.

From Green Left Weekly, August 18, 2004.

Visit the Green Left Weekly home page (http://www.greenleft.org.au).



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