ETAN Urges Visiting Australian Prime Minister to Follow Rule of Law in Talks with E Timor
- Timor Network Urges Visiting Australian Prime Minister to Follow Rule of
Law in Talks with East Timor
June 3, 2004 - The East Timor Action Network (ETAN) today urged Australias
Prime Minister John Howard to allow East Timor a fair opportunity to
achieve economic independence by developing its own natural resources. The
Prime Minister is visiting Washington this week.
While Australia welcomed East Timor into the community of independent
nations two years ago, the Australian government continues to obstruct the
new countrys 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, said John M. Miller, spokesperson for ETAN.
We urge Prime Minister Howard to respect his new neighbors sovereignty by
participating in good-faith efforts to resolve the boundary dispute quickly
In March, more than 50 members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote
to Prime Minister Howard, encouraging Australia to to move seriously and
expeditiously in negotiations with East Timor to establish a fair,
permanent maritime boundary and an equitable sharing of oil and gas
resources in the Timor Sea.
In his reply, Mr. Howard wrote that Australia is committed to doing what
we can to help East Timor on its road to stable, democratic governance.
Nevertheless, Mr. Howard declined to set an end date for negotiations. In
addition, he rejected the Representatives strong suggestion that any
revenue from disputed areas on East Timor's side of the median line but
outside the Joint Petroleum Development Area defined in the Timor Sea
Treaty be held in escrow until a permanent boundary is established by
stating that Australia has exercised jurisdiction in these areas for an
extensive period of time.
This claimed jurisdiction is based on an illegitimate treaty with
Indonesia, illegally signed while Indonesia brutally occupied East Timor,
said Miller. The East Timorese and their friends thought that the violent
withdrawal of Indonesian troops in 1999 was the end of foreign occupation
of their territory. Australia should be ashamed to continue to profit from
this occupation. Prime Minister John Howard betrays Australians sense of
fair play and legality when he justifies todays continuing occupation by
citing Australian complicity with Indonesias brutal invasion.
Prime Minister Howard is visiting Washington this week, and met with
President Bush today to discuss Iraq and the new Australia-U.S. Free Trade
Agreement, among other topics.
We wonder if the two leaders discussed how their nations can set a good
example by following the rule of law, especially in relation to smaller,
weaker, less affluent nations just developing their democratic traditions,
Substantial oil and natural gas deposits lie under the Timor Sea between
Australia and East Timor. The fate of tens of billions of dollars of
revenue depends on a permanent boundary agreement. Where neighboring claims
overlap, as is the case with East Timor and Australia, countries must
negotiate a permanent maritime boundary, usually halfway between their
coastlines. If both sides approach the issue in good faith, such agreements
usually take 2-3 years to negotiate.
Two months before East Timor achieved 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 that cannot be settled by
negotiation. Mari Alkatiri, East Timor's soon-to-be Prime Minister, called
this withdrawal an "unfriendly" act. The withdrawal has prevented the new
nation from employing third-party arbitration to encourage Australia to
approach this issue in a timely and cooperative manner.
In October 2002, East Timor enacted a Maritime Boundary Law, claiming a 200
nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone, based on the United Nations
Convention on the Law of the Sea. At the same time, East Timors Prime
Minister asked his Australian counterpart to begin negotiations. The first
round of talks was held a year later, the second round in April 2004.
Neither meeting made significant progress, although East Timor asked for
monthly talks both times, and Australia has refused to meet more than twice
East Timor is among the world's poorest countries, with low levels of basic
services and high unemployment. Its governments annual budget of around US
$85 million has come largely from donors during the past few years. The new
nation is currently trying to avoid borrowing from international financial
institutions, as it faces a projected US$30 million budget deficit between
2005 and 2007. Yet between 1999 and today, the Australian government has
taken in more than US$1 billion in oil and gas revenues from petroleum
fields that are twice as close to East Timor as they are to Australia, and
which would belong to East Timor under a fair boundary settlement.
In the first substantive round of negotiations in late April, Australias
stonewalling did not change.
After those talks, the United Nations Secretary-General reported that the
possibilities for Timor-Lestes future political development and social
progress are indissolubly linked with its economic prospects. Progress
towards agreement between Australia and Timor-Leste for development of the
mineral resources in the Timor Sea, in a mutually beneficial manner,
through full commitment of the leadership of the countries involved, would
make an essential contribution in this regard.
In March 2004, Representative Barney Frank and 52 others wrote to Mr.
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 dispute. In early April, more than one thousand East
Timorese demonstrated in front of the Australian Embassy in Dili, calling
for Australia to end its occupation of the Timor Sea and stop stealing East
Timors oil. East Timors leaders, including President Xanana Gusmão and
Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, made similar requests, and pointed out that
this is a life and death issue for the people of East Timor.
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."
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 info see www.etan.org.
ETAN needs your financial support: Make a secure contribution:
John M. Miller Internet: fbp@...
Media & Outreach Coordinator
East Timor Action Network: 12 Years for Self-Determination & Justice
48 Duffield St., Brooklyn, NY 11201 USA
Phone: (718)596-7668 Fax: (718)222-4097
Mobile phone: (917)690-4391
Web site: http://www.etan.org
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